We have been thinking about thunderstorms pretty often in the last week or so, with the severe storms around Brisbane affecting so many people and smaller storms threatening us although not quite making it all the way to Townsville. (We watch them on the BoM radar and we see clouds building up behind Mt Stuart and then they just …. go away.) (So far.)
Anyway, here on YouTube is a wonderful super-high-speed movie of a bolt of lightning. Captured at over 7000 frames per second, it lets you see the development of the strike. We found it via xkcd, one of our favourite online cartoonists. He has a weekly “What If?” column “Answering your hypothetical questions with physics,” which is somewhat in the style of Mythbusters in that the science is good, the presentation is informal and no question is too wacky to tackle. His page on lightning explains what we are seeing on the video and answers some more-or-less sensible questions about how lightning bolts behave.
While we are thinking about physics/maths, here are two more web pages:
A mathematically generated butterfly created by Ken Perlin of NYU Computer Science. He has lots more “toys from the blog” on his home page but they didn’t work for me when I tried a few – “inactive plug-in” error. If you fancy your luck, here’s his page.
Jason Kottke’s blog isn’t as heavy on maths/IT as xkcd (he says, “The editorial direction … clusters around a pair of hand-wavy ideas: the liberal arts 2.0, and people are awesome”) but does have a substantial proportion of maths posts. Start here for the maths stuff, or just go to the main page.