You are on page 1of 5

Fulgurites

[show]Left frame
[hide]Right frame

[show]Parallel view ( )
[show]Cross-eye view ( )
Two Type I (arenaceous) fulgurites:
a common tube fulgurite and a more
irregular specimen.

Stereo image
[show]Left frame
[hide]Right frame

[show]Parallel view ( )
[show]Cross-eye view ( )
Two small Type I Saharan
Desertfulgurites. In a planar view
the specimen on the right has a
blade-like morphology, but its
tubular nature is dramatically shown
in a stereo view.

Fulgurites (from the Latin fulgur, meaning "lightning") are classified generically as a variety of
the mineraloid lechatelierite, although their absolute chemical composition is dependent on the
physical and chemical properties of target material affected by the discharge of cloud-ground
lightning. They are commonly hollow and/or branching assemblages of glassy, protocrystalline,
and heterogeneously-microcrystalline tubes, crusts, slags, vesicular masses, and clusters of
refractory materials that often form during the discharge phase of lightning strikes propagating
into silica-rich quartzose sand, mixed soil, clay, caliche and other carbonate-rich sediments.[1]
[2]

Colloquially, they have been referred to as petrified lightning.[3] Fulgurites are homologous

to Lichtenberg figures, which are the branching patterns produced on surfaces


of insulators during dielectric breakdown by high-voltage discharges, such as lightning.[4][5]
Contents

[hide]

1Description

2Classification

3Place in planetary processes and the geologic record

4Fulgurites in material culture

5Gallery

6See also

7References

8External links

Description[edit]
Fulgurites are formed when lightning with a temperature of at least 1,800 C (3,270 F)
melts silica or other common conductive and semiconductive minerals and substrates, fusing,
vitrifying, oxidizing and reducing mineral grains and organic compounds; [6] the fulgurite mass is
the rapidly-quenched end-product.[7] The temperature peak within a lightning channel, however, is
known to exceed 30,000 K, with sufficient pressure to produce planar deformation features, or
"shock lamellae" in SiO2 polymorphs.[8][9][10] It is assumed that the process of forming a fulgurite
occurs over a timespan of the order of a single second,[11] following the termination of the return
stroke sequence, and leaves direct evidence of the dissipation path and its dispersion over the
surface or into the earth.[12] Artificial fulgurites can also be produced when the controlled arcing of
electricity into a fusable medium. This has been documented in cases of downed high
voltage power lines; current was discharged into the ground, producing blue fulguritelike lechatelierites, colored by copper from the power line.[13]
The color of fulgurites varies widely, depending on composition and chemical impurities. It can
range from black or tan, to green, blue, metallic blue-grey, or a translucent white. More colorful
variants are usually synthetic and reflect incorporation of synthetic materials. The interior of Type
I (sand) fulgurites normally is very smooth or lined with fine bubbles, while other types are often
both vesicular and dense or porous andscoria-like; their exteriors generally can be coated with
rough sedimentary particles and can be porous, smooth, or structurally-complex. Fulgurites
display some degree of self-similarity and structural scale invariance as a macroscopic or
microscopic network of root-like branches. Fulgurites formed in sand or loose soil are
mechanically fragile, making the field collection of large specimens difficult.
The primary SiO2 phase in fulgurites is lechatelierite, a silica glass. Because their groundmass is
generally amorphous in structure, fulgurites are classified as mineraloids.

Fulgurites can exceed tens of centimeters in diameter and can penetrate deep into the subsoil,
sometimes occurring as far as 15 m (49 ft) below the surface that was struck, but may form
directly on appropriate sedimentary surfaces.[14] One of the longest fulgurites to have been found
in modern times was a little over 4.9 m (16 ft) in length, and was found in northern Florida.
[11]

The Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History displays one of the longest known

preserved fulgurites, approximately 4 m (13 ft) in length.[15] Charles Darwin in The Voyage of the
Beagle recorded that tubes such as these found in Drigg, Cumberland, UK reached a length of
9.1 m (30 ft).[16][17] The Winans Lake fulgurite[s] (Winans Lake, Livingston County, Michigan),
extended discontinuously throughout a 30 m range, and arguably includes the largest reported
fulgurite mass ever recovered and described - its largest section extending approximately 16 ft
(4.88 m) in length by 1 ft in diameter (30 cm).[2][18]

Classification[edit]
Fulgurites have been classified by Pasek et al. (2012)[19] into five types related to the type of
sediment in which the fulgurite formed, as follows:

Type I - sand fulgurites with tubaceous structure; their central axial void may be collapsed

Type II - soil fulgurites; these are glass-rich, and form in a wide range of sediment
compositions, including clay-rich soils, silt-rich soils, gravel-rich soils, and loessoid; these
may be tubaceous, branching, vesicular, irregular/slaggy, or may display a combination of
these structures, and can produce exogenic fulgurites (droplet fulgurites)

Type III - caliche or calcic sediment fulgurites, having thick, often surficially-glazed
granular walls with calcium-rich vitreous groundmass with little or no lechatelierite glass; their
shapes are variable, with multiple narrow central channels common, and can span the entire
range of morphological and structural variation for fulguritic objects

Type IV - rock fulgurites, which are either crusts on minimally-altered rocks, networks of
tunneling within rocks, vesicular outgassed rocks (often glazed by a silicide-rich and/or metal
oxide crust), or completely vitrified and dense rock material and masses of these forms with
little sedimentary groundmass

Droplet fulgurites (exogenic fulgurites), which are exogenous (e.g. spheroidal, botryoidal,
filamentous, or aerodynamic),[1][20] related by composition to Type II and Type IV fulgurites

Place in planetary processes and the geologic record[edit]


Many observations have been made in fulgurites of high-pressure, high-temperature materials
more commonly assumed to be the exclusive to meteoritic sources, products of asteroid impacts,
comet airbursts, or cosmic dust influx. Such materials - as a suite - formerly considered to be
unique to hypervelocity impacts, have been identified in fulgurites, including highly reduced

silicon-metal alloys (silicides), the fullereneallotropes C60 (buckminsterfullerene) and C70, as well
as high-pressure polymorphs of SiO2, in fulgurites.[2][8][18][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30]
Reduced phosphorus as phosphides and phosphites have been identified through quantitative
analyses of a representative sample of 10 fulgurites recovered from most continents, in the form
of schreibersite (Fe3P, (Fe,Ni)3P) - terrestrially extremely rare, but common on meteorites,
comets, interplanetary dust, and some planetary bodies - and TiP, which is unique to fulgurites.[2]
[31][32]

Fulgurites are, with the analysis of paleomagnetic (LIRM, or Lightning-induced remanent


magnetism) anomaly, primary sources for environmental information produced by the study
of paleolightning in paleoclimatology and atmospheric sciences.[33] For instance, the fact that
fulgurites are abundant in the central Sahara Desert, where thunderstorm activity is very rare,
demonstrates that thunderstorms were once more frequent in that region, and as such, their
spatial distributions guide reconstruction of convection and precipitation patterns, while their
pores enclose and preserve samples of the ancient atmosphere in which they formed. [34][35]