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 July 24, 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 July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) — The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) — NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? 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