Scientists study giant lightning columns in Earth’s upper atmosphere

July 26, 2011DURHAM, NC –  In 2001, scientists discovered gigantic jets of lightning arcing up from clouds in the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the troposphere, to the ionosphere. These rarities apparently are caused by the profound difference in electric charge between the ionosphere and the rest of the atmosphere, but much else about them remained unclear. “People wonder if these gigantic jets might threaten spacecraft, aircraft and passengers,” said researcher Gaopeng Lu at Duke University. “This actually makes the study of gigantic jets and other lightning-related phenomena above active thunderstorms meaningful and of practical concern.” To learn more about these enigmas, scientists analyzed two such jets that occurred near lightning- detection systems capable of monitoring very high frequency (VHF) radio emissions. The detection systems allowed scientists to follow how this lightning developed in 3-D. They also remotely measured how much charge these jets packed by analyzing their magnetic fields. The first jet, which occurred off the coast of Florida, leapt up 50 miles (80 km), while the second jet, observed in Oklahoma, soared 56 miles (90 km). “They must be the tallest species of lightning on Earth,” Lu told OurAmazingPlanet. The researchers suggest that strong circulation in the core region of a storm might prevent clouds from developing continuous positively charged upper layers, enabling the formation of these gigantic jets.  Lightning in the clouds preceding these jets might also play a role in dissipating these upper positive layers, Lu said. –Our Amazing Planet
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4 Responses to Scientists study giant lightning columns in Earth’s upper atmosphere

  1. Brian says:

    The Name given to these upward mobile lightning pillars are ” Sprites “…
    We in the flying community have know about them for some time..


  2. adam says:

    Just learned of these a couple of months ago. Rarely seen from the ground but seen by pilots more often. Amazing phenomenon.


  3. Blaze says:

    Yes, the ionosphere is showing an increased electrical charge. Influx of protons…where could that be coming from???


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