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SOME NATURAL PHENOMENA SOME NATURAL PHENOMENA In Class VII you read about winds, storms and cyclones. You learnt that cyclones can cause a lot of damage to human life and property. You also learnt that we can protect ourselves from these destructive phenomena to some extent. In this chapter we shall discuss two other destructive natural phenomena. These are lightning and earthquakes. We shall also discuss what steps we can take to minimise destruction caused by these phenomena. 15.1Lightning You might have seen sparks on a electric pole when wires become loose. This phenomenon is quite common when a wind is blowing and shacking the wires. You might also have seen sparks when a plug is loose in its socket. Lightning is also an electric spark, but on a huge scale. In ancient times people did not understand the cause of these sparks. They were, therefore, afraid of lightning and thought that the wrath of gods was visiting them. Now, of course, we understand that lightning is caused by the accumulation of charges in the clouds. We need not be afraid of lightning, but we have to take precautions to protect ourselves from the deadly sparks. The Sparks that the Greeks Knew About The ancient Greeks knew as early as 600 B.C. that when amber (amber is a kind of resin) was rubbed with fur, it attracted light objects such as hair. You might have seen that when you take off woollen or polyester clothes, your hair stands on ends. If you take off these clothes in the dark, you see even a spark and hear crackling sound. In 1752 Benjamin Franklin, an American scientist, showed that lightning and the spark from your clothes are essentially the same phenomena. However, this realisation took 2000 years. Scientific discoveries are a result of hardwork by many people. It can sometime takes a long time. I wonder why they took so many years to realise the similarity. We shall now study some properties of electric charges. We shall also see how they are related to the lightning in the sky.

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In Class VII you read about winds,storms and cyclones. You learnt thatcyclones can cause a lot of damage tohuman life and property. You alsolearnt that we can protect ourselves fromthese destructive phenomena to someextent. In this chapter we shall discusstwo other destructive naturalphenomena. These are lightning andearthquakes. We shall also discuss whatsteps we can take to minimisedestruction caused by thesephenomena.


You might have seen sparks on aelectric pole when wires become loose.This phenomenon is quite commonwhen a wind is blowing and shackingthe wires. You might also have seensparks when a plug is loose in itssocket. Lightning is also an electricspark, but on a huge scale.

In ancient times people did notunderstand the cause of these sparks.They were, therefore, afraid of lightningand thought that the wrath of gods wasvisiting them. Now, of course, weunderstand that lightning is caused bythe accumulation of charges in theclouds. We need not be afraid oflightning, but we have to take

precautions to protect ourselves fromthe deadly sparks.

The Sparks that the Greeks KnewAbout

The ancient Greeks knew as early as600 B.C. that when amber (amber is akind of resin) was rubbed with fur, itattracted light objects such as hair. Youmight have seen that when you takeoff woollen or polyester clothes, yourhair stands on ends. If you take offthese clothes in the dark, you see evena spark and hear crackling sound. In1752 Benjamin Franklin, an Americanscientist, showed that lightning and thespark from your clothes are essentiallythe same phenomena. However, thisrealisation took 2000 years.

Scientific discoveries are aresult of hardwork by many

people. It can sometime takesa long time.

I wonder why they took somany years to realise the


We shall now study some propertiesof electric charges. We shall also see howthey are related to the lightning in thesky.

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Let us perform some activities tounderstand the nature of electriccharges. But recall first what you mighthave played as a game. When you ruba plastic scale on your dry hair, thescale can attract very small pieces ofpaper.

15.2 Charging by rubbing

Activity 15.1

Take a used ballpen refill and rubit vigorously with a piece ofpolythene. Bring it close to smallpieces of paper. Take care not totouch the rubbed end of the refillwith your hand or with a metallicobject. Repeat the activity with smallpieces of dry leaf, husk and mustardseeds. Record your observations.

When a plastic refill is rubbed withpolythene, it acquires a small electriccharge. Similarly, when a plastic combis rubbed with dry hair, it acquires asmall charge. These objects are calledcharged objects. In the process ofcharging the refill and the plastic comb,polythene and hair also get charged.

Let’s try to charge some otherobjects that are familiar to you.

Activity 15.2

Collect the objects and thematerials listed in Table 15.1. Tryto charge each by rubbing with thematerials mentioned in the Table.Record your findings.You can add more items to theTable.

Table 15.1

Objects rubbed Materials Attracts/does not Chargedused for rubbing attract pieces /not charged

of paper

Refill Polythene,woollen cloth

Balloon Polythene, woollencloth, dry hair

Eraser Wool

Steel spoon Polythene,

woollen cloth


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15.3 Types of Charges andtheir Interaction

We will select some objects from Table15.1 for the next activity.

Activity 15.3

a) Inflate two balloons. Hang themin such a way that they do not toucheach other (Fig. 15.1). Rub both theballoons with a woollen cloth andrelease them. What do you observe?

refill also with polythene. Bring itclose to the charged refill. Be carefulnot to touch the charged end withyour hand. Is there any effect onthe refill in the tumbler? Do the twoattract each other, or repel eachother?In this activity we have brought closetogether the charged objects thatwere made of the same material.What happens if two charged objectsmade of different materials arebrought close to each other? Let’sfind out.b) Rub a refill and place it gently ina glass tumbler as before (Fig. 15.3).Bring an inflated charged balloonnear the refill and observe.

Fig. 15.1 : Like charges repel each other

Fig. 15.2 : Interaction between like charges

Now let us repeat this activity withthe used pen refills. Rub one refillwith polythene. Place it carefully ina glass tumbler using the tumbleras a stand (Fig. 15.2). Rub the other

Fig. 15.3 : Unlike charges attract each other

Let’s summarise the observations:A charged balloon repelled a charged

balloon.A charged refill repelled a charged

refill.But a charged balloon attracted a

charged refill.Does it indicate that the charge on

the balloon is of a different kind fromthe charge on the refill? Can we saythen, that there are two kinds of

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charges? Can we also say that thecharges of the same kind repel eachother, while charges of different kindattract each other?

It is a convention to call the chargeacquired by a glass rod when it isrubbed with silk as positive. Theother kind of charge is said to benegative.

It is observed that when a chargedglass rod is brought near a chargedplastic straw rubbed with polythenethere is attraction between the two.

What do you think would be the kindof charge on the plastic straw? Yourguess, that the plastic straw would carrya negative charge is correct.

The electrical charges generated byrubbing are static. They do not move bythemselves. When charges move, theyconstitute an electric current. You havebeen reading about electric current sinceClass VI. The current in a circuit whichmakes a bulb glow, or the current thatmakes a wire hot, is nothing but amotion of charges.

15.4Transfer of Charge

Activity 15.4

Take an empty jam bottle. Take apiece of cardboard slightly bigger insize than the mouth of the bottle.Pierce a hole in it so that a metalpaper clip could be inserted. Openout paper clip as shown in Fig. 15.4.Cut two strips of aluminium foilabout 4 cm × 1 cm each. Hang themon the paper clip as shown. Insertthe paper clip in the cardboard lidso that it is perpendicular to it (Fig.15.4). Charge a refill and touch it

Fig 15.4 : A simple electroscope

with the end of the paper clip.Observe what happens. Is there anyeffect on the foil strips? Do theyrepel each other or attract eachother? Touch now, other chargedbodies with the end of the paper clip.Do foil strips behave in the sameway in all cases? Can this apparatusbe used to detect whether a body ischarged or not? Can you explainwhy the foil strips repel each other?

The aluminium foil strips receive thesame charge from the charged refillthrough the paper clip (remember thatmetals are good conductors ofelectricity). The strips carrying similarcharges repel each other and theybecome wide open. Such a device canbe used to test whether an object iscarrying charge or not. This device isknown as electroscope.

Thus, we find that electrical chargecan be transferred from a charged objectto another through a metal conductor.

Touch the end of the paper clip gentlywith hand and you will find a change in

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the foil strips. They come back to theiroriginal state. Repeat charging of foilstrips and touching the paper clip. Everytime you will find that the foil stripscollapse as soon as you touch thepaperclip with hand. Why does ithappen? The reason is that the foil stripslose charge to the earth through yourbody. We say that the foil strips aredischarged. The process of transferingof charge from a charged object to theearth is called earthing.

Earthing is provided in buildings toprotect us from electrical shocks dueto any leakage of electrical current.

15.5 The Story of Lightning

It is now possible to explain lightningin terms of the charges produced byrubbing.

You learnt in Class VII that duringthe development of a thunderstorm, theair currents move upward while thewater droplets move downward. Thesevigorous movements cause separationof charges. By a process, not yetcompletely understood, the positivecharges collect near the upper edges ofthe clouds and the negative chargesaccumulate near the lower edges. Thereis accumulation of positive charges nearthe ground also. When the magnitudeof the accumulated charges becomes verylarge, the air which is normally a poorconductor of electricity, is no longer ableto resist their flow. Negative and positivecharges meet, producing streaks ofbright light and sound. We see streaksas lightning (Fig. 15.5). The process iscalled an electric discharge.

Fig 15.5 : Accumulation of charges leading to lightning.

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The process of electric discharge canoccur between two or more clouds, orbetween clouds and the earth. Today weneed not get frightened by lightning likethe ancient people did. Now weunderstand the basic phenomenon.Scientists are trying hard to improve ourunderstanding. However, lightningstrike could destroy life and property. Itis, therefore, necessary to take measuresto protect ourselves.

15.6 Lightning Safety

During lightning and thunderstorm noopen place is safe.� Hearing thunder is an alert to rush

to a safer place.� After hearing the last thunder, wait

for some time before coming out ofthe safe place.

Finding a safe place

A house or a building is a safe place.If you are travelling by car or by bus,

you are safe inside with windows anddoors of the vehicle shut.

Do’s and Don’ts during a Thunder-storm

OutsideOpen vehicles, like motorbikes, tractors,construction machinery, open cars arenot safe. Open fields, tall trees, sheltersin parks, elevated places do not protectus from lightning strokes.

Carrying umbrella is not a good ideaat all during thunderstorms.

If in a forest, take shelter undershorter trees.

If no shelter is available and you arein an open field, stay far away from alltrees. Stay away from poles or other

metal objects. Do not lie on the ground.Instead, squat low on the ground. Placeyour hands on your knees with yourhead between the hands (Fig. 15.6). Thisposition will make you the smallesttarget to be struck.

Fig. 15.6 : Safe position during lightning

Inside the houseLightning can strike telephone cords,electrical wires and metal pipes (Do youremember, lightning is an electricaldischarge?). During a thunderstormcontact with these should be avoided. Itis safer to use mobile phones andcordless phones. However, it is not wiseto call up a person who is receiving yourphone through a wired phone.

Bathing should be avoided duringthunderstorms to avoid contact withrunning water.

Electrical appliances like computers,TVs, etc., should be unplugged. Electricallights can remain on. They do not causeany harm.

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Lightning Conductors

Lightning Conductor is a device usedto protect buildings from the effect oflightning. A metallic rod, taller than thebuilding, is installed in the walls of thebuilding during its construction. Oneend of the rod is kept out in the air andthe other is buried deep in the ground(Fig. 15.7). The rod provides easy routefor the transfer of electric charge to theground.

The metal columns used duringconstruction, electrical wires and waterpipes in the buildings also protect us toan extent. But do not touch them duringa thunderstorm.


You just learnt about thunderstorm andlightning. In Class VII you learnt aboutcyclones. These natural phenomena cancause large scale destruction of humanlife and property. Fortunately, thesephenomena can be predicted to someextent. The weather department canwarn about a thunderstorm developingin some area.

If a thunderstorm occurs there isalways a possibility of lightning andcyclones accompanying it. So, we gettime to take measures to protectourselves from the damage caused bythese phenomena.

Fig. 15.7 : Lightning conductor



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There is, however, one naturalphenomenon which we are not yet ableto predict. It is an earthquake. It cancause damage to human life andproperty on a huge scale.

A major earthquake occurred in Indiaon 8th October 2005 in Uri andTangdhar towns of North Kashmir (Fig.15.8). Before that a major earthquakeoccurred on 26th January 2001 in BhujDistrict of Gujarat.

Activity 15.5

Ask your parents about the hugedamages to life and property causedby these earthquakes. Collect a fewpictures showing the damage

caused by these earthquakes fromnewspapers and magazines of thosedays. Prepare a short report on thesuffering of the people during theearthquakes.

What is an earthquake? Whathappens when it occurs? What can wedo to minimise its effects? These aresome of the questions which we shalldiscuss below.

What is an Earthquake?

An earthquake is a sudden shaking ortrembling of the earth lasting for a veryshort time. It is caused by a disturbancedeep inside the earth’s crust.

Fig. 15.8 : Kashmir earthquake

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My grandmother told methat the earth is balancedon the horn of a bull andwhen the bull shifts it to

the other horn, anearthquake takes place.

How could it be true?

Earthquakes occur all the time, all overthe earth. They are not even noticed.Major earthquakes are much lessfrequent. They can cause immensedamage to buildings, bridges, dams andpeople. There can be a great loss to lifeand property. The earthquakes cancause floods, landslides and tsunamis.A major tsunami occurred in the IndianOcean on 26th December 2004. All thecoastal areas around the ocean sufferedhuge losses.

Activity 15.6

Take an outline map of the world.Locate the eastern coast andAndaman and Nicobar Islands inIndia. Mark other countries aroundthe Indian Ocean which could havesuffered damage. Collect accountsof the devastation caused by thetsunami in India from your parents,or other elders in the family or inthe neighbourhood.

What Causes an Earthquake?

Fig. 15.10 : Earth plates

What could cause adisturbance inside

the earth?

Fig. 15.9 : Structure of the earth

Now we know that the tremors arecaused by the disturbance deep downinside the uppermost layer of the earthcalled the crust (Fig. 15.9).





In ancient times, people did not knowthe true cause of earthquakes. Theirideas were, therefore, expressed inmythical stories such as the one told byBoojho’s grandmother. Similar mythswere prevalent in other parts of theworld.

The outermost layer of the earth isnot in one piece. It is fragmented. Eachfragment is called a plate (Fig. 15.10).These plates are in continual motion.When they brush past one another, or



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a plate goes under another due tocollision (Fig. 15.11), they causedisturbance in the earth’s crust. It isthis disturbance that shows up as anearthquake on the surface of the earth.

carried out. However, most earthquakesare caused by the movement of earth’splates.

Since earthquakes are caused by themovement of plates, the boundaries ofthe plates are the weak zones whereearthquakes are more likely to occur.The weak zones are also known asseismic or fault zones. In India, theareas most threatened are Kashmir,Western and Central Himalayas, thewhole of North-East, Rann of Kutch,Rajasthan and the Indo – GangeticPlane. Some areas of South India alsofall in the danger zone (Fig. 15.12).

If scientists know so muchabout earthquakes, can

they also predict when andwhere the next one will


I read somewhere thatunderground explosions

could also causetremors.

Fig. 15.11 : Movements of earth’s plates

Fig. 15.12 : Movements of Indian earth’s plate

The power of an earthquake isexpressed in terms of a magnitude on ascale called Richter scale. Reallydestructive earthquakes havemagnitudes higher than 7 on theRichter scale. Both Bhuj and Kashmirearthquakes had magnitudes greaterthan 7.5.

Although, we know for sure whatcauses an earthquake, it is not yetpossible to predict when and where thenext earthquake might occur.

Tremors on the earth can also becaused when a volcano erupts, or ameteor hits the earth, or anunderground nuclear explosion is



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The tremors produce waves on the surface of the earth. These are called seismicwaves. The waves are recorded by an instrument called the seismograph(Fig. 15.13). The instrument is simply a vibrating rod, or a pendulum, whichstarts vibrating when tremors occur. A pen is attached to the vibrating system.The pen records the seismic waves on a paper which moves under it. By studyingthese waves, scientists can construct a complete map of the earthquake, as shown

in Fig. 15.14. They can also estimateits power to cause destruction.

Fig. 15.13 : A seismograph

A typical seismograph record

Fig. 15.14 : Map of the earthquake




Inside the earth


Like many other scales in science (decibel is another example), Richter scale isnot linear. This means that an earthquake of magnitude 6 does not have one andhalf times the destructive energy of an earthquake of magnitude 4. In fact, anincrease of 2 in magnitude means 1000 times more destructive energy. Forexample, an earthquake of magnitude 6 has thousand times more destructiveenergy than an earthquake of magnitude 4.

Protection against Earthquakes

We know from the earlier pages thatearthquakes cannot be predicted. Wehave also seen that they can be highlydestructive. It is, therefore, importantthat we take necessary precautions toprotect ourselves all the time. Peopleliving in seismic zones, where theearthquakes are more likely to occur,

have to be specially prepared. First ofall, the buildings in these zones shouldbe designed so that they can withstandmajor tremors. Modern buildingtechnology can make it possible.

It is advisable to make the structuresimple so that it is ‘Quake Safe’.� Consult qualified architects and

structural engineers.

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� In highly seismic areas, the use ofmud or timber is better than theheavy construction material. Keeproofs as light as possible. In casethe structure falls, the damage willnot be heavy.

� It is better if the cupboards andshelves are fixed to the walls, so thatthey do not fall easily.

� Be careful where you hang wallclocks, photo-frames, water heatersetc., so that in the event of anearthquake, they do not fall onpeople.

� Since some buildings may catch firedue to an earthquake, it is necessarythat all buildings, especially tallbuildings, have fire fightingequipment in working order.The Central Building Research

Institute, Roorkee, has developedknowhow to make quake proof houses.

In the event that an earthquake doesstrike, take the following steps to protectyourself:

1. If you are at home:� Take shelter under a table and stay

there till shaking stops.� Stay away from tall and heavy objects

that may fall on you.� If you are in bed, do not get up.

Protect your head with a pillow.

2. If you are outdoors:

� Find a clear spot, away frombuildings, trees and overhead powerlines. Drop to the ground.

� If you are in a car or a bus, do notcome out. Ask the driver to driveslowly to a clear spot. Do not comeout till the tremors stop.

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� Some objects can be charged by rubbing with

other objects.

� There are two kinds of charges — positive

charge and negative charge

� Like charges repel and unlike charges attract

each other.

� The electrical charges produced by rubbing

are called static charges.

� When charges move, they constitute an

electric current.

� An electroscope may be used to detect

whether a body is charged or not.

� The process of transfer of charge from a

charged object to the earth is called earthing.

� The process of electric discharge between

clouds and the earth or between different

clouds causes lightning.

� Lightning strike could destroy life and


� Lightning conductors can protect buildings

from the effects of lightning.

� An earthquake is a sudden shaking or

trembling of the earth.

� Earthquake is caused by a disturbance deep

inside the earth’s crust.

� It is not possible to predict the occurrence of

an earthquake.

� Earthquakes tend to occur at the boundaries

of earth’s plates. These boundaries are known

as fault zones.

� Destructive energy of an earthquake is

measured on the Richter scale. The

earthquake measuring 7 or more on Richter

scale can cause severe damage to life and


� We should take necessary precautions to

protect ourselves from earthquakes.

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Select the correct option in Questions 1 and 2.1. Which of the following cannot be charged easily by friction?

(a) A plastic scale(b) A copper rod(c) An inflated balloon(d) A woollen cloth.

2. When a glass rod is rubbed with a piece of silk cloth the rod(a) and the cloth both acquire positive charge.(b) becomes positively charged while the cloth has a negative charge.(c) and the cloth both acquire negative charge.(d) becomes negatively charged while the cloth has a positive charge.

3. Write T against true and F against false in the following statements:(a) Like charges attract each other (T/F)(b) A charged glass rod attract a charged plastic straw (T/F)(c) Lightning conductor cannot protect a building from lightning (T/F)(d) Earthquakes can be predicted in advance (T/F)

4. Sometime, a crackling sound is heard while taking off sweater duringwinters. Explain.

5. Explain why a charged body loses its charge if we touch it with our hand.

6. Name the scale on which the destructive energy of an earthquake ismeasured. An earthquake measures 3 on this scale. Would it be recordedby a seismograph? Is it likely to cause much damage?

7. Suggest three measures to protect ourselves from lightning.

8. Explain why a charged balloon is repelled by another charged balloonwhereas an uncharged balloon is attracted by another charged balloon?

9. Describe with the help of a diagram an instrument which can be used todetect a charged body.

10. List three states in India where earthquakes are more likely to strike.

11. Suppose you are outside your home and an earthquake strikes. Whatprecaution would you take to protect yourself?

12. The weather department has predicted that a thunderstorm is likely tooccur on a certain day. Suppose you have to go out on that day. Would youcarry an umbrella? Explain.

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Extended Learning — Activities and Projects

1. Open a water tap. Adjust the flow so that it forms a thin stream.Charge a refill. Bring it near the water stream. Observe whathappens. Write a short report on the activity.

2. Make your own charge detector. Take a paper strip roughly 10 cm ×3 cm. Give it a shape as shown in Fig. 15.15. Balance it on aneedle. Bring a charged body near it. Observe what happens. Writea brief report, explaining its working.

3. This activity should be performed at night. Go to a room wherethere is a fluorescent tube light. Charge a balloon. Switch off thetube light so that the room is completely dark. Bring the chargedballoon near the tubelight. You should see a faint glow. Move theballoon along the length of the tube and observe how glow changes.

Caution : Do not touch the metal parts of the tube or the wiresconnecting the tube with the mains.

4. Find out if there is an organisation in your area which providesrelief to those suffering from natural disaster. Enquire about thetype of help they render to the victims of earthquakes. Prepare abrief report on the problems of the earthquake victims.

For more information on these topics, visit:� science.howstuffworks.com/lightning.htm� science.howstuffworks.com/earthquake.htm� www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/astronomy/planets/


Fig. 15.15

Paper 8.0cm

Fold along

Cut along