Researchers say that x-rays may help them predict where lightning will strike by allowing them to view what happens inside bolts as they move. University of Florida and Florida Institute of Technology engineers report in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters that lightning zaps to the ground in 30- to 160-foot (nine- to 49-meter) stages—emitting x-rays after completing each "step." Understanding how a bolt travels, they say, is crucial in determining where it will strike. For the first time, researchers have been able to track lightning's journey using x-rays to probe its composition, much the way physicians use x-rays to peer inside the human body. Among questions they hope to answer: do lightning strikes on airplanes produce x-rays harmful to passengers?


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