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10 Myths About Lightning

        Science | Storms

1
Benjamin Franklin and the Kite
This  Currier & Ives lithograph shows Benjamin Franklin and his son William using a kite and key during a storm to prove that lightning was electricity. Some experts doubt the incident ever happened. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
This Currier & Ives lithograph shows Benjamin Franklin and his son William using a kite and key during a storm to prove that lightning was electricity. Some experts doubt the incident ever happened. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Back to old Ben Franklin's kite flying expedition: Maybe it didn't happen. Skeptics point to the lack of hard evidence backing up Franklin's version of the experiment. There were no witnesses, only vague accounts from Franklin himself. When NASA scientist Tom Tucker tried to recreate the experiment using the same materials to build the kite that would have been available in Franklin's day, he couldn't get the darned thing to fly. Even if he had been able to get it off the ground, Tucker argues that it would have never soared high enough to attract an electric bolt from the sky [source: Matthews].

That, of course, doesn't mean that the theory Franklin set out to prove is inaccurate. It could mean, however, that the story behind what we know about lightning and electricity today is as much as a myth as the idea that lightning never strikes the same place twice.

"Could' is the key word here. Franklin defenders maintain that the kite story is genuine, arguing that recreating the experiment turns on difficult-to-control variables like kite-flying dynamics and how damp the materials are [source: Schiffer].

Perhaps lightning doesn't strike the same kite twice.


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