September 26, 2022


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An extremely powerful lightning bolt went into space.  Scientists investigate an unusual case

An extremely powerful lightning bolt went into space. Scientists investigate an unusual case

The electrical discharge that occurred in the sky of Oklahoma was not only comprehensive, reaching heights of more than 80 kilometers, but was also extremely powerful.

It is worth emphasizing at this point that the Americans recognize a ceiling of about 80 kilometers as the limit of space. As for the strength of the discharge, it turns out that it contains up to 100 times more electrical charges than with ordinary lightning bolts.

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The discharge was so strong that it transferred approximately 300 coulombs of electrical charge from the storm into the ionosphere. In comparison, the lightning bolts we observe in most storms carry less than five coulombs this way. So you can imagine how impressive this phenomenon is.

An article on this topic can be found at science progress It describes how scientists used 3D modeling to map this observed flow. The authors explained that this allowed them to see high-frequency sources above the top of the clouds – they had never seen before in this level of detail. Moreover, using satellite and radar data, they were also able to work out where the very hot main part of the discharge was located above the cloud.

The lightning was over 80 kilometers away

Such strong discharges have been researched and studied over the past two decades, but the lack of access to a special monitoring system means that they are rarely detected. In this case, this phenomenon was immortalized thanks to the so-called citizen scientist who recorded it on May 14, 2018. In addition, it turned out that the discharge occurred in the range of Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) and is available to devices on satellites from the NOAA satellite network Geostationary Operational Environment (GOES).

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The data collected thanks to them were used for further research. In the course of their study, the authors concluded, among other things, that cold currents begin to spread over the top of the cloud. They diverge from 80 to less than 100 km, creating a direct electrical connection between the upper part of the cloud and the lower ionosphere. As a result, thousands of amperes of current are delivered in about a second. When the discharge rose from the top of the cloud, the radio sources were detected at altitudes of 22 to 45 kilometers, while the light emissions remained near the top of the cloud at an altitude of 15 to 20 kilometers. Interestingly, such phenomena are not as rare as you might think. Their number is estimated between 1,000 and 50,000 per year.

Read also: Dark lightning more frequent in the sky. What is this?

For some reason, discharges from clouds to the ground are usually suppressed. The negative charge builds up, then we think conditions at the height of the storm weaken the top layer of the charge, which is usually positive. In the absence of lightning strikes that we usually see, a giant jet could dampen the buildup of excess negative charge in the cloud.The Levi Boggs Research Institute of Georgia Tech explains