However awesome it may sound, the implausibility of trapping a lightning bolt probably means most people haven’t bothered to consider how it might be done. Here’s the thing: we can already technically trap the real-life image of a bolt of lightning. While that may not sound nearly as cool, the resulting pattern – called a Lichtenberg figure – is definitely worthy our attention.
Check out this short video to see the rapid creation of a Lichtenberg figure, which begins around the 13 second mark:
How is a Lichtenberg figure made?
A Lichtenberg figure can form on the surface of almost any insulating material. Glass, resin and acrylic are all examples, but there are extraordinary circumstances that sometimes lead to more abnormal Lichtenberg figures – like those grafted onto human skin.
This is possible due to the effect of a lightning strike on the human body. Branching capillaries rupture and create an image which looks like a bolt of lightning. Unlike artificial Lichtenberg figures, those on human skin will generally wear off after only a few days.
In order to make an artificial Lichtenberg figure, you need something called a cathode ray tube, a device capable of creating a beam of negatively charged electrons. The goal is getting the beam of electrons to discharge inside of a particular insulating material. This can be done through irradiation, which blasts the material with positively charged particles, thereby creating the conditions that normally produce a lightning strike.
Needless to say, the resulting discharge is mesmerizing.
Here are a few other examples of Lichtenberg figures
This is what a typical artificial Lichtenberg figure looks like:
This was the result after lightning struck a flat, grassy area:
Here’s an example of skin after the subject was struck by lightning (ouch):
Naturally, we can also manipulate the electrical discharge to make less natural Lichtenberg figures, as in this example: