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Updated 2:00 PM EDT, Wed, May 20, 2020

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Scientists Photograph the First Image of Thunder

Thunder image

(Photo : UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA/FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY/SOUTHWEST RESEARCH INSTITUTE) The tilt of the lightning bolt in the left photo is also seen in the acoustic image below.

Scientists have visually captured the sound waves created by thunder produced from artificially triggered lightning for the very first time.

Dr. Maher A. Dayeh, a research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and his team launched a small rocket into thunderclouds, trailing a grounded copper wire to create a predictable path for a lightning strike. An array of 15 microphones captured the sound, which was processed by computer to create a profile of the bolt.

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The study was conducted in Gainsville, Florida, home to the most lightning strikes per year in the U.S.

SwRI researchers simulated lightning to study the acoustic power radiated from different portions of a lightning channel in an effort to learn more about the origins of thunder and the energetic processes associated with lightning.

"Thunder and lightning are fascinating, wild, and unpredictable. Because of their erratic nature, the phenomena are best studied using triggered events," said Dr. Dayeh.

Dr. Dayeh thought that the experiment will not work successfully because the preliminary constructed images looked like a colorful piece of modern art and the detailed sound signature of lightning in the acoustic data is not visible.

But when viewing higher frequencies, the imaged thunder became clear. The curve in the image displays signatures shows the speed of the sound traveling from the lightning strike.

However, further study exposed a distinct signature of thunder generated by the lightning.

Scientists are also in the process of creating a method to analyze the probable acoustic signature of lightning discharge.

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