Russian researchers find more evidence to support notion that lightning is caused by cosmic rays

May 06, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Lightning
Image: Wikimedia Commons

(Phys.org) —Russian physicists Alex Gurevich and Anatoly Karashtin claim, in a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, they have found more evidence to support their idea that lightning is caused by cosmic rays. The notion was first proposed by Gurevich back in 1992, and has been a source of debate ever since.

No one really knows what causes lightning to form and strike—the prevailing view is that it comes about as a result of collisions between ice crystals in clouds and hail stones. But because clouds and the lightning they produce are unpredictable and hard to pin down, no one has been able to prove this theory. Another theory, proposed by Gurevich twenty years ago, says that lightning is formed from the collisions between and present in . Now he and a colleague claim to have found evidence to support this idea.

Gurevich suggests that cosmic rays entering thunder clouds cause the air in them to be ionized, resulting in a lot of floating around. The electronic field already present in the cloud, he continues, leads to the free electrons being boosted to higher energies. When the electrons present in the air collide with water atoms, more electrons are released, setting off what he describes as an avalanche of high- that eventually give way to a "runaway breakdown"—a discharge that is witnessed as a lightning strike.

As with other theories regarding the origins of lightning, Gurevich's ideas haven't been proved. But he hasn't been sitting still. In this new effort, he along with Karashtin have been measuring and analyzing in as lightning occurs. The idea is that if such strikes are due to interactions with cosmic rays, there should be measurable amounts of radio waves given off.

Gurevich and Karashtin set up equipment to monitor storm clouds over Russia and Kazakhstan—recording radio waves emitted during 3,800 lightning strikes. In analyzing the data, they found that hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of short radio wave pulses occurred just as a bolt of lightning was about to form. Perhaps more importantly, they matched the models Gurevich had built years before. There was on hitch however, the amount of energy delivered by the cosmic rays in the model don't happen often enough in the real world to cause in most every thunderstorm.

Gurevich and Karashtin say the discrepancy can be explained by the addition of energy into the system by free electrons passing near hydrometeors (bits of hail or water droplets). When that happens, very small discharges result, adding to the total charge. Taken together they say, enough energy is added to cause the cascade that leads to lightning formation.

Explore further: The mysteries of Antarctic sea ice

More information: Runaway Breakdown and Hydrometeors in Lightning Initiation, Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 185005 (2013). prl.aps.org/abstract/PRL/v110/i18/e185005

Abstract
The particular electric pulse discharges are observed in thunderclouds during the initiation stage of negative cloud-to-ground lightning. The discharges are quite different from conventional streamers or leaders. A detailed analysis reveals that the shape of the pulses is determined by the runaway breakdown of air in the thundercloud electric field initiated by extensive atmospheric showers (RB-EAS). The high amplitude of the pulse electric current is due to the multiple microdischarges at hydrometeors stimulated and synchronized by the low-energy electrons generated in the RB-EAS process. The series of specific pulse discharges leads to charge reset from hydrometeors to the free ions and creates numerous stretched ion clusters, both positive and negative. As a result, a wide region in the thundercloud with a sufficiently high fractal ion conductivity is formed. The charge transport by ions plays a decisive role in the lightning leader preconditioning.

via Physics Synopsis

Related Stories

Study explains the mystery of ball lightning

Oct 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—Sightings of ball lightning have been made for centuries around the world – usually the size of a grapefruit and lasting up to twenty seconds – but no explanation of how it occurs has been ...

Cassini spots daytime lightning on Saturn

Jul 19, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Saturn was playing the lightning storm blues. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured images of last year's storm on Saturn, the largest storm seen up-close at the planet, with bluish spots in ...

Firefly Mission to Study Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes

Feb 02, 2010

High-energy bursts of gamma rays typically occur far out in space, perhaps near black holes or other high-energy cosmic phenomena. So imagine scientists' surprise in the mid-1990s when they found these powerful ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 23

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (6) May 06, 2013
Re: "There was on hitch however, the amount of energy delivered by the cosmic rays in the model don't happen often enough in the real world to cause lightning strikes in most every thunderstorm."

They don't have to go further than the Val Allen radiation belts to find those extra charged particles ...
nkalanaga
4 / 5 (4) May 06, 2013
It's also possible that cosmic ray triggering isn't the ONLY cause of lightning. Sometimes the charge may build up on its own to the level required for an arc as meteorologists have long thought. Why would all lightning have to be the same?
Mike_Massen
3.8 / 5 (12) May 06, 2013
Enlightening if not truly shocking, lets hope there is no resistance to accepting that rays from the cosmos could induce a role to play in current research, it does seem they have the capacity to do so with some significant potential.
cantdrive85
1.4 / 5 (10) May 06, 2013
This selection of seemingly disparate articles should highlight why a better understanding of circuit theory could reveal a better answer as to the origin of lightning and weather for that matter.

http://phys.org/n...rgy.html

http://phys.org/n...nce.html

http://phys.org/n...eve.html

http://phys.org/n...eal.html

http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

http://phys.org/n...ere.html

http://phys.org/news4423.html

http://geophysics.../ege.pdf

http://books.goog...;f=false
Q-Star
1.6 / 5 (7) May 06, 2013
Affiliates wanted, referring people to sign up for things like Netflix, Gamefly, Shoebuy, "month" clubs and many more! You earn money every time someone sign up! Great for extra money. Earn up to $120 per referral and I'm even offering up to $50 cash back! gtdenterprises120 dot tk. or visit my fb page, gtdenterprises, for more info.


I'd sure hate to miss an opportunity like this one. I'm rather preoccupied at the moment, is the offer still good for tomorrow?
Jitterbewegung
2.8 / 5 (4) May 06, 2013
They mention in the article that there is no proof for any of the theories for lightning.
If there is no proof for a theory then shouldn't it be called a hypothesis?
Moebius
2.6 / 5 (5) May 06, 2013
Sounds like lightning may be able to be weaponized.
evropej
1 / 5 (6) May 06, 2013
This is hilarious. Lightning is caused by temperature change. Weather systems cause severe temperature change due to fronts moving through the atmosphere. The change in temperature changes permittivity which changes the capacitance of the atmosphere which causes a discharge. I love how people seek exotic explanations to simple physics problems. KISS!
cantdrive85
2.3 / 5 (6) May 06, 2013
This is hilarious. Lightning is caused by temperature change. Weather systems cause severe temperature change due to fronts moving through the atmosphere. The change in temperature changes permittivity which changes the capacitance of the atmosphere which causes a discharge. I love how people seek exotic explanations to simple physics problems. KISS!


Ummmmm... No. Not even close.
Mike_Massen
3.3 / 5 (6) May 06, 2013
evropej offers inspired ignorance
..Lightning is caused by temperature change. Weather systems cause severe temperature change due to fronts moving through the atmosphere.. KISS!
Friction moving charges around doesnt involve a temperature change and can cause a static discharge ie Its lightning on a smaller scale. Charge distribution in clouds prior to a strike has been observed whether temperature changes or not. Temperature may well help but its obviously not essential to "generating" lightning now is it ?
carrotSnack
3.8 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
Enlightening if not truly shocking, lets hope there is no resistance to accepting that rays from the cosmos could induce a role to play in current research, it does seem they have the capacity to do so with some significant potential.

I hope it sparks some interest for further study.
A1phaZu1u
1.8 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
In the Article the Russian "physicists" theory is "that lightning is formed from the collisions between cosmic rays and water droplets present in thunderclouds". Yet ruling out all physics all we have to consider is ash clouds coming from volcanoes and their ability to create lightning strikes. There most likely isn't water droplets in ash clouds, therefore how is lightning produced? Our current theory on how lightning is formed makes more sense than these outlandish claims.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (8) May 07, 2013
Re: "Our current theory on how lightning is formed makes more sense than these outlandish claims."

There is a problem which pertains to all of the disciplines of science: The "current theory", as documented in the textbooks, is already known to be impossible or incorrect or insufficient or just wrong. We see this pattern repeatedly: People using the instant communications of the Internet to advocate for the antiquated theories of the last decade which are documented in the textbooks.

The fact is that we now see lightning which goes to space above these storms. We see that the ground strikes emit enormous energies which cast doubt upon the static electricity inference. We see that the Van Allen radiation belts blink almost at the same time as lightning strikes occur. We can also now see other forms of "dark" discharges which are just as harmful for people.

None of these things were in the textbooks that you and I learned from.
hudres
1 / 5 (2) May 07, 2013
It is incorrect to attribute all lightning to a single source or trigger mechanism. Certainly friction, static, and the other common causes are valid. While I agree with the author that lightning can be caused by cosmic rays, I disagree with the exact mechanism he proposes. There has been substantial work in the electronic warfare arena using UV lasers to ionize a channel through the atmosphere that can them be used to propagate electromagnetic signal. It is highly likely that a similar mechanism exists for lightning and gamma rays. The high energy particle ionizes a track through the atmosphere (certain), and if there is a sufficient charge built up along this path, it will be discharged to ground (also certain). The necessary coincidence is that a suitably charged particle must pass through a charged region in the clouds. While the author's model may be correct, the model I propose is simpler and therefore more likely.
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
Re: "There has been substantial work in the electronic warfare arena using UV lasers to ionize a channel through the atmosphere that can them be used to propagate electromagnetic signal. It is highly likely that a similar mechanism exists for lightning and gamma rays."

Thanks for that. Very interesting and helpful. In another thread last week, it was suggested that astrophysicists and cosmologists should be left alone to do their work, free from critique by philosophers or other specialists. I think you just demonstrated better than I could why this is a bad idea.

I would only add to what you have here by pointing out the work of radio astronomer, Gerrit Verschuur. When this ionization occurs in the laboratory, we often see specific critical ionization velocities emitted -- which are basically redshifts associated with the 21-cm wavelength. Verschuur observes these CIV's to be associated with the knots of interstellar filaments (which are more commonly called "clouds").
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (5) May 07, 2013
... Verschuur claims that he's been able to approximately correlate many of the WMAP hotspots with these knots, suggesting the possibility that ionization routinely occurs within interstellar space. We need more observation on this.

What's also important to realize is that the sprites introduce new questions for the conventional view of electricity in space which scientists will choose to either ask or ignore -- the most important drawing on the historical tendency to put electricity in space into a box. What is clear is that this is a byproduct of the worldview we've trained our physicists in. They are taught that we live in a magnetic universe, but not an electric one. This worldview is confining the types of questions which are being asked to a small subset of the possible. One very simple way to accelerate the cosmic rays would be to subject them to a weak electric field applied over a vast distance. We should accordingly be asking if stars exhibit such fields.
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (3) May 11, 2013
There is "cause" and then there is "trigger".

The article and the comments that follow, confuse the two concepts.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) May 12, 2013
HannesAlfven let his hubris get the better of any good sense remaining with an ambit claim
The "current theory", as documented in the textbooks, is already known to be impossible or incorrect or insufficient or just wrong..
HannesAlfven please ! The more correct interpretation is that the current science (any current science) can be further fine tuned and *tested*, all mature scientists accept this potential and embrace it, it is part of "The Discipline of the Acquisition of Knowledge", ie Science in highest form.

HannesAlfven get a grip on probability, static/dynamic equilibrium in respect of how science changes and leans towards an asymptotic potential, the impact & effect of manipulative uses of linguistics & most effective means to live day to day with a certain ever-present acceptance there is no absolute certainty in any arena of knowledge, activity, cognition or even the illusion of sense of self & especially so of the desire for an individual soul or 'consciousness'.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) May 12, 2013
VendicarE seems to suffer an oh so little (but noticeable) level of confusion himself with
There is "cause" and then there is "trigger".
The article and the comments that follow, confuse the two concepts.
Surely VendicarE in precise respect of linguistics, trigger is a cause and not (as you imply with use of '..then there..') a resulting effect, leading to another cause and then another effect as you tangentially imply...

ie A 'trigger' is surely and in direct language a 'cause', there will often be an effect and in concert with the nature of the article the 'trigger' as you put it, is one of many causes which have competitive edge in terms of timing and progression. There is also surely the multiple levels of cause/effect at the micro level summed as macro cause/effect also, so also from that paradigm a trigger = a cause.

evropej
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2013
evropej offers inspired ignorance
..Lightning is caused by temperature change. Weather systems cause severe temperature change due to fronts moving through the atmosphere.. KISS!
Friction moving charges around doesnt ....


Study the equation for capacitance and you will see why lightning happens. The build up of charge is a different discussion.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2013
evropej put himself in a corner with
Study the equation for capacitance and you will see why lightning happens. The build up of charge is a different discussion.
Given your previous post, where is temperature evident as a factor in capacitance in clouds please evropej ? Capacitance equation relates to area and to insulator dielectric strength *not* charge differential, are you quite ok evropej ?

Care to enlighten us re your comment evropej "..build up of charge is a different discussion'', isnt that the actual topic evropej why not elaborate then, wouldn't it be sensible to be precise to honour the highest ethic of Science ?
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) May 12, 2013
that lightning is formed from the collisions between cosmic rays and water droplets present in thunderclouds
It's actually quite noncontroversial theory, which was verified during Mike nuclear test.
evropej
1 / 5 (1) May 13, 2013
evropej put himself in a corner with
Study the equation for capacitance and you will see why lightning happens. The build up of charge is a different discussion.
Given your previous post, where is temperature evident as a factor in capacitance in clouds please evropej ? Capacitance equation relates to area and to insulator dielectric strength *not* charge differential, are you quite ok evropej ?

Care to enlighten us re your comment evropej "..build up of charge is a different discussion'', isnt that the actual topic evropej why not elaborate then, wouldn't it be sensible to be precise to honour the highest ethic of Science ?


I am to busy to teach every person who is not willing to teach themselves or people who are online scientists and engineers with no actual degree. If you ever designed a capacitor or used one in an application, you become aware of temperature and the effects on capacitance very quickly but then again that would require actual experience.