Petrified Lightning - Saharan Fulgurite
"The tube is sometimes thick as a finger or thumb sometimes as a feather quill... Sometimes if one knows them and is on the lookout they can be seen shining forth out of the earth." ~ Pastor David Hermann, first recorded observation of fulgurites in 1706
When lightning strikes dry sand, the intense heat melts and fuses the silica creating tubes of rough glass called fulgurites. The process happens quickly, often trapping molecules from the surrounding atmosphere inside the walls of the impact tube. These natural time capsules allow scientists to study the composition of ancient climates.
This specimen is a fulgurite collected in the Sahara Desert. Originally featured in the Second Editon of the Mini Museum, we're happy to offer it as a stand-alone specimen for your collection.
As pictured, the specimen is housed in a glass-topped riker display box measuring 4x3x1 (inches). A small information card accompanies the specimen.
Please Note: For protection, we've wrapped each fulgurite inside a small bubble wrap pouch inside the riker case. When your fulgurite arrives, remove it from the case and unwrap it. Then, you can place it back inside the riker case.
To most of us, lightning is a "bolt from the blue" - a flash of light breaking out of the clouds. It strikes the ground then fades to black against the crash of thunder. Dramatic as this sounds, the mechanics of lightning are very complicated.
A lightning strike is like two fingers coming together. An ionized column of air known as a leader works its way down from the clouds, meeting up with a similar column rising from the ground. As these two columns connect, a return stroke moves from the ground to the clouds creating the bright light we know as lightning. The amount of current moving through this connection is enormous and superheated air around the bolt explodes; this is what we call thunder.
When the ground is composed of dry sand, the intense heat melts and fuses the silica creating tubes of rough glass called fulgurites. The process happens quickly, often trapping molecules from the surrounding atmosphere inside the walls of the impact tube. These complex, branching structures sometimes reach over 40' in length.
Above: Internal structure of a fulgurite from the Second Edition of the Mini Museum.
Today, scientists use fulgurites as natural time capsules. Extracted from fossil dunes which preserve the delicate structure, microspectroscopic analysis of trapped gasses within the fulgurites provide a view to climates thousands of years old in regions where weather patterns have changed dramatically.