Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Giant natural particle accelerator above thunderclouds

Date:
April 14, 2010
Source:
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Summary:
A lightning researcher has discovered that during thunderstorms, giant natural particle accelerators can form 40 km above the surface of the Earth.

A lightning researcher at the University of Bath has discovered that during thunderstorms, giant natural particle accelerators can form 40 km above the surface of the Earth. On Wednesday 14th April Dr. Martin Fullekrug will present his new work at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2010) in Glasgow. The image shows a transient airglow or 'sprite' above a thunderstorm in France in September 2009.
Credit: Serge Soula / Oscar van der Velde

A lightning researcher at the University of Bath has discovered that during thunderstorms, giant natural particle accelerators can form 40 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.

On April 14, Dr. Martin Fullekrug presented his new work at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2010) in Glasgow.

When particularly intense lightning discharges in thunderstorms coincide with high-energy particles coming in from space (cosmic rays), nature provides the right conditions to form a giant particle accelerator above the thunderclouds.

The cosmic rays strip off electrons from air molecules and these electrons are accelerated upwards by the electric field of the lightning discharge. The free electrons and the lightning electric field then make up a natural particle accelerator.

The accelerated electrons then develop into a narrow particle beam which can propagate from the lowest level of the atmosphere (the troposphere), through the middle atmosphere and into near-Earth space, where the energetic electrons are trapped in the Earth's radiation belt and can eventually cause problems for orbiting satellites. These are energetic events and for the blink of an eye, the power of the electron beam can be as large as the power of a small nuclear power plant.

The trick to determining the height of one of the natural particle accelerators is to use the radio waves emitted by the particle beam, explains Dr. Fullekrug.

These radio waves were predicted by his co-worker Dr. Robert Roussel-Dupré using computer simulations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory supercomputer facility.

A team of European scientists, from Denmark, France, Spain and the UK helped to detect the intense lightning discharges in southern France which set up the particle accelerator. They monitored the area above thunderstorms with video cameras and reported lightning discharges which were strong enough to produce transient airglows above thunderstorms known as sprites. A small fraction of these sprites were found to coincide with the particle beams.

The zone above thunderstorms has been a suspected natural particle accelerator since the Scottish physicist and Nobel Prize winner Charles Thomson Rees Wilson speculated about lightning discharges above these storms in 1925.

In the next few years five different planned space missions (the TARANIS, ASIM, CHIBIS, IBUKI and FIREFLY satellites) will be able to measure the energetic particle beams directly.

Dr Fullekrug comments: "It's intriguing to see that nature creates particle accelerators just a few miles above our heads. Once these new missions study them in more detail from space we should get a far better idea of how they actually work. They provide a fascinating example of the interaction between the Earth and the wider Universe."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). The original article was written by Robert Massey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Giant natural particle accelerator above thunderclouds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100413202850.htm>.
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). (2010, April 14). Giant natural particle accelerator above thunderclouds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100413202850.htm
Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). "Giant natural particle accelerator above thunderclouds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100413202850.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — A total lunar eclipse, the first since December 2011, took place early Tuesday morning with the Americas getting the best glimpse. Duration: 1:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — New research says the urea from urine could be recycled for fuel. Urea is filtered out of wastewater when making drinking water. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins