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article imageShocking discovery: Lightning can shape mountains!

By Cameron Christner     Jan 8, 2014 in Science
Lightning has long been hailed as one of the most impressive displays of nature's power. But no one would have imagined that it was responsible for the shape of mountains!
Previously, mountain ranges were thought to be formed gradually over thousands of years, due to the freeze-thaw cycles that gradually split rock.
While this process still retains its significance in mountain formation, Stefan Grab and Jasper Knight from the South African University of the Witwatersrand have discovered that lightning also plays a significant role.
Grab himself had been caught in an intense lightning storm and lived to tell the tale. It was this event that prompted him to study the surrounding Drakensberg mountain range.
He and his colleague used a compass to locate over 90 instances of lightning strikes that had shattered rock over just a quarter square mile. The compass was used to pick up magnetic traces of the strikes left behind by the massive amount of electricity released in the storms.
The lightning strikes evaporate water stored in the cracks of rocks within milliseconds, causing an explosion that launches as much as ten tons of debris into the air.
The researchers believe that exploration of other mountain ranges will yield similar findings, and if they are right, their discovery will change geographical theory and garner even more respect for the power of nature.
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