Is Lichtenberg figure beautiful or ugly?

1. Image credit: Bert Hickman, via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 1 is a beautiful fern or tree-like pattern formed when an electrical current of high voltage passes over the surface or through the insulator. This pattern is called Lichtenberg figure, named after a German physicist, Professor Georg Lichtenberg, who made this discovery back in 1777.

This branching pattern is a sparkling sight when formed in a cube or 3D block, but not so when it sparks on humans as shown in figure 2. When lightning strikes people, this striking pattern is formed, probably due to rupture of capillaries secondary to a huge amount of electrical discharge. This pattern is medically called ‘arborescent (tree-like) erythema or keraunographic markings.’ Other non-medical names include lightening flowers and skin feathering.

2. Image credit: Domart and Garet, NEJM

The case in the discussion here is of a 54-year-old man, lightning strike survivor, who was fortunate enough to be up and about till the time he landed in the emergency room, preceded by initial short-lived stupor right after the strike.
On examination, painless cutaneous branching pattern was observed over his back and extremities. These marks spontaneously disappeared in two days.

Winston Kemp’s Lichtenberg figure, via BBC news.

Another man, Winston Kemp, was reported to be struck by lightning in his pumpkin field during the storm. He happened to be an electrician by profession. Surprisingly he didn’t realise until keraunographic markings or Lichtenberg pattern appeared on his arm in an hour, eventually forming blisters and erythematous pattern. Over a months period, these marking got pale and ultimately disappeared altogether.

Does it cause serious or long term complications?
Although rare (1 in 300,00) and with rates decreasing every year, still thousands of people fall victim to the lightning strike, out of which, 90% get Lichtenberg scars, 10% die, whereas 70% have long term complications. The loud thunder and bright light can adversely affect the hearing and the eyesight, respectively. In severe cases, the patient may experience temporary blindness, clouding of lenses, perforation in retina or rupture of the tympanic membrane. The current can interrupt with the electrical impulses of brain, spinal cord or heart, giving a cardiac arrest, in which case a CPR would be necessary. Brain damage can lead to amnesia, seizures or other neurological deficits.
An intense electric shock can give burns in Lichtenberg pattern, damaging the skin and capillaries, along the path of electricity. Also, it can heat up any metallic jewellery worn by the victim, causing third-degree burns.

A lightning bolt can raise the temperature of the surrounding air up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is many times more than the heat of the sun, also can contain 1 billion volts of electricity. By looking at the figures, the amount, extent and intensity of the damage to the human body can be imagined.

Interesting Fact:
This lightning flower pattern is not limited to the human body or 3D block, it has been seen on water and grasslands too. You may not be wanting the shock to watch one live, so here’s a picture.

Image credit: True Activist


What are Lichtenberg figures, and how do we make them? (2019, December 21). Retrieved from

What Does It Look Like When A Person Gets Struck By Lightning? (n.d.). Retrieved from IFL science:

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Dr. Arsia Hanif has been a meritorious Healthcare professional with a proven track record throughout her academic life securing first position in her MCAT examination and then, in 2017, she successfully completed her Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery from Dow University of Health Sciences. She has had the opportunity to apply her theoretical knowledge to the real-life scenarios, as a House Officer (HO) serving at Civil Hospital. Whilst working at the Civil Hospital, she discovered that nothing satisfies her more than helping other humans in need and since then has made a commitment to implement her expertise in the field of medicine to cure the sick and regain the state of health and well-being. Being a Doctor is exactly what you’d think it’s like. She is the colleague at work that everyone wants to know but nobody wants to be. If you want to get something done, you approach her – everyone knows that! She is currently studying with Medical Council of Canada and aspires to be a leading Neurologist someday. Alongside, she has taken up medical writing to exercise her skills of delivering comprehensible version of the otherwise difficult medical literature. Her breaks comprise either of swimming, volunteering services at a Medical Camp or spending time with family.


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