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Fog Buster
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A Stormy History
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A Big Discovery about Little People
Digging Up Stone Age Art
Unearthing Ancient Astronomy
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Pygmy Sharks
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Strong Bones for Life
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Human Body
A Long Trek to Asia
Don't Eat That Sandwich!
Spit Power
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German Shepherds
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The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
Choosing a Preschool: What to Consider
Raise a Lifelong Reader by Reading Aloud
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Thinner Air, Less Splatter
Invisibility Ring
The Pressure of Scuba Diving
Plants
Farms sprout in cities
Nature's Alphabet
Assembling the Tree of Life
Reptiles
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Asp
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Space and Astronomy
Intruder Alert: Sweeping Space for Dust
The two faces of Mars
Icy Red Planet
Technology and Engineering
A Light Delay
Reach for the Sky
Squeezing Oil from Old Wells
The Parts of Speech
What is a Noun
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Problems with Prepositions
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Tinkering With the Basic Bike
Robots on a Rocky Road
Are Propellers Fin-ished?
Weather
Earth's Poles in Peril
Either Martians or Mars has gas
The solar system's biggest junkyard
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Petrified Lightning

Lightning has amazing powers. One bolt heats the air to 30,000 degrees C. That's five times as hot as the surface of the sun. Lightning can frighten pets and kids, start fires, destroy trees, and kill people. Lightning also has the power to make glass. When a bolt of lightning strikes a sandy surface, the electricity can melt the sand. This melted substance combines with other materials. Then it hardens into lumps of glass called fulgurites. (Fulgur is the Latin word for lightning.) Now, scientists are studying fulgurites in Egypt to piece together a history of the region's climate. Thunderstorms are rare in the desert of southwest Egypt. Between 1998 and 2005, satellites in space detected hardly any lightning in the area. Amid the region's sandy dunes, however, fulgurites are common. These lumps and tubes of glass suggest that lightning used to strike there more often in the past. Recently, scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City studied fulgurites that had been collected in Egypt in 1999. When heated, minerals in fulgurites glow. Over time, exposure to natural radiation causes small defects in the glassy fulgurites. The older the material is, the more defects there are, and the stronger the minerals glow at certain wavelengths of light when they're heated. By measuring the intensity of the glow when the samples were heated, the researchers found that the fulgurites formed around 15,000 years ago. The scientists, for the first time, also looked at the gases trapped inside bubbles in the glass. Their chemical analyses showed that the landscape could have supported shrubs and grasses 15,000 years ago. Now, there's only sand. Today, shrubs and grasses grow in the hot, dry climate of Niger, 600 kilometers (375 miles) south of the Egypt site. The researchers suspect that, when the fulgurites were created, the climate in southwest Egypt was similar to present-day conditions in Niger. Fulgurites and their gas bubbles are good windows into the past, scientists say, because such glasses remain stable over time. Analyzing the Egyptian fulgurites, in particular, is "an interesting way of showing that the climate in this region has changed," says Kenneth E. Pickering, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Even if you're afraid of thunderstorms, the amazing powers of lightning are bound to impress you! And lightning strikes can even tell a story of ancient times.—E. Sohn

Petrified Lightning
Petrified Lightning








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