Scientists recorded “enormous” lightning in May 2018, flying over a thunderstorm in Oklahoma. But this wasn’t just lightning.
Every time we think of this powerful force of nature, we imagine cracks of light dividing the sky, releasing massive amounts of electricity into the surrounding atmosphere, which cracks the earth every time it strikes.
However, this lightning bolt shot in the opposite direction, up from the clouds, and crashed into the stratosphere in massive blue “puffs” of electricity.
This bolt was so powerful that it carried 100 times more charge than the average storm bolt, and reached 80 kilometers in the air, very close to the official limit of outer space.
And although it was not the first of its kind to be observed, it turned out to be twice as powerful as the second, According to a press release from the Universities Space Research Consortium (USRA). And even today they remain a bit of a mystery to scientists, in large part due to their rarity.
Now, giant supercharged lightning jets have been mapped for the first time in one study. Published in the magazine science advances. According to lead author Levi Boggs, a scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, researchers have created a 3-D map of Oklahoma’s jetliner.
The result gives us new details about this strange phenomenon, which should contribute to a better understanding of how and why it occurs.
“We were able to map this giant aircraft in three dimensions with high-quality data,” Boggs said. “We were able to see high-frequency (VHF) sources above the top of the cloud, which hadn’t been there before in this level of detail. Using satellite and radar data, we were able to work out where the most common major part of the download is above the cloud.”
When the Oklahoma jet appeared from above the cloud, the researchers detected several high-frequency radio (VHF) sources at an altitude of 22-45 km, as well as simultaneous optical emissions near the top of the cloud. 15-20 km.
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This indicates that the VHF sources were produced by tiny structures at the tip of the lightning called streamers, 200°C plasma strips, and that streamer discharge activity could reach the maximum distance from the top of the cloud to the ionosphere, accordingly. to study.
In addition to these small streamers, according to new observations, the strongest electric currents came from the “leaders”, the hottest sections that can reach temperatures above 4400 degrees Celsius.
Although the current study gives greater insight into the structures of these giant aircraft, especially above the drag line, there is still a lot we don’t know about this phenomenon.
We don’t know why the plane flew into space at first, when most of the rays are directed down or sideways. Researchers think there may be something stopping the lightning from traveling down or into other clouds.
Although the Oklahoma storm was not the usual type associated with aircraft, since it occurred in high latitudes, not in the tropics, and occurred at an unusual time of year, it could provide clues in this case. Very few downward rays were observed before the giant jet was launched.
“For whatever reason, there is usually a suppression of cloud-to-ground discharges,” Boggs explained.
“There is a buildup of negative charge, and so we think conditions at the top of the storm are weakening the top layer of the charge, which is usually positive. In the absence of the lightning discharges we usually see, the giant jet could mitigate the buildup of excess negative charge in the cloud. .”
Boggs and colleagues are now investigating whether these rare events can affect the operations of satellites in low Earth orbit.
Edited by Felipe Espinosa Wang.
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