Man has always marveled at the terrifying and destructive nature of thunder and lightning. In Norse mythology, it is produced using Mjolnir, the hammer of Thor, the god of thunder. The Greeks believed that lightning bolts were thrown down by Zeus from Mount Olympus. In more modern times there was the belief that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, which turned out to be false. There’s also another one that says you should hang an acorn by your window if you want to prevent lightning from striking. Whatever these beliefs were, they were not as wild as the CIA’s belief that they could weaponize lightning and make it strike as they wished.

Thor’s Fight with the Giants. (Mårten Eskil Winge , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Anatomy of a Lightning

First, let’s have a little bit of elementary Science so we could understand how lightning works which would make us better understand why it was (or was not) a good weapon idea. Perhaps the best source of explanation would be none other than NASA. As they explained,

You need cold air and warm air. When they meet, the warm air goes up. It makes thunderstorm clouds! The cold air has ice crystals. The warm air has water droplets. During the storm, the droplets and crystals bump together and move apart in the air. This rubbing makes static electrical charges in the clouds.

So lightning is a discharge of electricity and a giant one. In fact, one strike of lightning can heat up the air around it at 54,000°F, and this extremely high heat could cause the air to expand explosively fast, and this rapid expansion would create a shock wave that would turn into the booming sound that we hear after the lightning, which is the thunder.