Fossilized Lightning


Fulgurites (from the Latin fulgur, meaning "lightning"), commonly known as "fossilized lightning", are natural tubes, clumps, or masses of sinteredvitrified, and/or fused soil, sand, rock, organic debris and other sediments that sometimes form when lightning discharges into ground. Fulgurites are classified as a variety of the mineraloid lechatelierite.

When ordinary negative polarity cloud-ground lightning discharges into a grounding substrate, greater than 100 million volts (100 MV) of potential difference may be bridged. Such current may propagate into silica-rich quartzose sand, mixed soilclay, or other sediments, rapidly vaporizing and melting resistant materials within such a common dissipation regime. This results in the formation of generally hollow and/or vesicular, branching assemblages of glassy tubes, crusts, and clumped masses. Fulgurites have no fixed composition because their chemical composition is determined by the physical and chemical properties of whatever material is being struck by lightning.

Fulgurites are structurally similar to Lichtenberg figures, which are the branching patterns produced on surfaces of insulators during dielectric breakdown by high-voltage discharges, such as lightning.