(WGHP) – “Can lightning turn sand at the beach into glass?” Dianne from Winston-Salem asks. “If so, how and in what conditions?”
Yes, it is possible for lightning to turn sand into glass. However, it’s not quite the kind of glass you’re thinking of, and the conditions have to be just right.
When lightning strikes damp sand, the bolt travels down through the sand until its energy runs out, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The melting point of sand is 1,723 degrees Celsius, which is over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Most lightning strikes can generate heat up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, well above the temperature needed to melt sand.
If the sand has a high concentration of silica or quartz, the lightning can cause the grains of sand to fuse together along its path and form glass tubes. The glass tubes typically form when the sand cools very quickly, and they can appear as clear, white-ish glass.
These glass tubes are called fulgurites. It doesn’t quite look like the glass we’re used to seeing. While the inside is smooth, the outside has a hard and gray sand-like texture, almost like fossilized lightning.
Because the glass tubes are located below ground, they typically are not revealed until the sand above it gets moved around.
If you or your child have a weather-related question, let us know using the form on our “Ask Alex!” page. Meteorologist Alex Schneider joined the FOX8 Max Weather Team in August 2022. She has a bachelor of science in atmospheric science and meteorology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.