When lightening strikes sand, the heat sometimes fuses the sand into long, slender glass tubes called fulgurites
When lightning strikes sand or sediment, the path followed by the bolt can fuse into a glassy tube called a fulgurite
Now, scientists are studying fulgurites in Egypt to piece together a history of the region's climate.
Amid the region's sandy dunes, however, fulgurites are common.
Recently, scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City studied fulgurites that had been collected in Egypt in 1999.
Because fulgurites are mainly glass, they're chemically stable and aren't very susceptible to erosion, says Barbara Sponholz, a physical geographer at the University of Wurzburg in Germany.
Analyzing the Egyptian fulgurites is "an interesting way of showing that the climate in this region has changed," agrees Kenneth E.
McCollum made his "assisted" fulgurites by firing rockets into thunderheads, triggering lightning bolts directed into a special barrel--in effect, forcing lightning to strike in the same place repeatedly.
The art object in this case was not a painting or sculpture but a fulgurite, a tubular specimen of petrified lightning.
In Soviet experiments reported in 1977, laboratory researchers used up to 12,000 volts to vaporize the inner walls of tubes of ice or plastic that served as models of fulgurites
While it seemed a long shot, the team hit pay dirt after sampling glassy lightning-seared rocks - known as fulgurites - from just five locations.
So far, the Sheep Mountain fulgurite and the shungite - a coal-like sedimentary material - appear to have very different histories.