Why does lightning zigzag?  |  Live Science

Why does lightning zigzag? | Live Science

Why does lightning zigzag?  |  Live Science

Lightning strikes along the coast of Trieste, Italy and the Adriatic Sea. (Image credit: Jure Batagelj / 500px via Getty Images)

Lightning can light up the sky in a bright flash and take on a variety of shapes, but if you were to draw it, you’d almost certainly scratch a zigzag. But what gives thunderbolts this branch shape? Why does lightning zigzag across the sky, instead of striking in a straight line between a thundercloud and the ground?

Many lightning mechanisms remain a mystery, although researchers are beginning to unravel the reason for the twisting of lightning. “We know everything about most things about Earth — scientists can predict [lunar and solar] eclipses in a fraction of a second” John Lowke (opens in a new tab), a physicist at the University of South Australia and lead author of a study looking at the “staircase model” of lightning, told Live Science. “But there are still great mysteries about the common old thunderbolt.”

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