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October 12, 2017, 05:16 PM

Did ancient Greeks know that lightning travels upwards?

By Thornton Kay

Doublended thunderbolt held by Zeus [photo cc wikipedia

 
Apotropaic lightning symbol, Lefkada museum [photo cc TK Salvo
 

Greece - The earliest observations that lightning travels from the ground up, and not from the sky down, seem to have been made during the twentieth century. It was discovered (by whom?) that the negative discharge path created at 75 miles per second from a cloud to earth was not lit up until the path hit the earth and a stream of positive electrons travelled back up to the cloud creating a plasma that lasts for milliseconds. It seems to last for longer when you look at lightning because an image of the brilliantly bright strike is imprinted on your eye and this can last for a second or two.

Images and sculptures of Zeus often show him holding or throwing a thunderbolt, and this has always seemed an enigma. After all, Poseidon carries a trident, and other gods carry spears - all of them only travel in one direction. But the flaming thunderbolt of Zeus is always shown with the tips of the flames travelling up and down.

There is an example of this in the museum at Lefkada, Greece, where two limestone stelai crudely carved with a symbol of the thunderbolt of Zeus which date from the 4th century BC and were set up in the agora of ancient Leukas beside a city gate which led to the sea. The museum caption read, 'they must have been religious or apotropaic in character'.

Interestingly, the path taken by the negative electrons from the cloud downwards is met by a shorter path of positive electrons from a high object, such as a tree or a ship's mast, upwards - but this cannot be observed visually by the modern human eye.

Could it be that the Greeks had this knowledge?

Story Type:  Opinion

ID: 102567

        
 
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