Unlocking the Mysteries of Fatal Lightning Strikes
Image: Unsplash, location Johannesburg, South Africa

Unlocking the Mysteries of Fatal Lightning Strikes

Scientists have found clear evidence in lightning pathology that could potentially save people’s lives in peril of fatal lightning strikes.

South African and Uk researchers are taking humanity a step closer to understanding and combating the damaging lightning effects increased by climate change. The latest study also aids law enforcers in determining whether a corpse is nature-caused or victim of a crime. 

Due to global climate change, thunderstorms and fatal lightning strikes are increasing in number. However, the new findings can provide life-saving data to improve the safety measures against electric storms. The news comes in time for the UN Climate Change Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. 

Lightning strikes effects on the human body 

The new research helps to identify fatal lightning strikes based on the analysis of skeletons. The most common signs of a lightning bolt effect on the body are fern-like red marks on the skin or internal organ damage. However, once a body decomposes, all these signs disappear. 

This is the first research that can identify a lightning bolt effect on the human body after decomposing. A lightning strike leaves a more profound mark than we previously thought. 

Artificial lightning 

Artificial lightning was the key to the latest discovery. Researchers generated and controlled artificial lightning in the laboratory. They tested it on a donated human bone and found microscopic damage made by the lightning current.

“We were able to see that there is a pattern of micro-fracturing within bone caused by the passage of lightning current. This takes the form of cracks that radiate out from the center of bone cells, or which jump irregularly between clusters of cells,” said the senior author of the study Dr. Patrick Randolph-Quinney. 

By mimicking a lightning bolt, scientists understood the current passing through the bone and its effects on a cellular level. Following the trauma pattern, the team has compared the results to a giraffe killed by lightning and found similarities. 

The goal

The new findings will help countries such as South Africa, Zambia, and Uganda stand a better chance against these fatal lightning strikes. Although a natural hazard, the lethal effects of lightning energy have become a big issue due to climate change. However, the multi-disciplinary project brings experts together to solve this real-world problem

You can find the complete study in the journal Forensic Science International: Synergy. Collaborators of the research are forensic anthropology, anatomy, lightning physics, and micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in South Africa, Northumbria University in the UK, and the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA).