Lightning That Shoots Up Not Down

Port Vila, Vanuatu (PressExposure) September 01, 2009 -- New findings from a recent study on wrong-way lightning have just been released. These rarely seen bolts of lightning, known as gigantic jets, have been witnessed reaching up to 90 kms above the head of the storm.

Led by Steven Cummer, of Duke University in North Carolina, the research team, were lucky enough to capture rare footage, as a jet of lightning streaked high above the tropical storm Cristobal. As the phenomenon occurs so quickly, cameras had to be trained exactly on the jet.

The team discovered the upward lightning carried 144 Coulombs of electrical charge. "This gigantic jet carried as much charge to the upper atmosphere as the very biggest cloud-to-ground lightning strokes about a hundred to a thousand times bigger than a typical lightning stroke", said Cummer. "Essentially nothing was known about the electrical nature of gigantic jets, we immediately started analyzing our data to understand what was going on".

The charge is able to travel further and faster because the thinner air provides less resistance between the clouds and the ionosphere.

For the first time, the research team were able to gain clear proof, that an electrical charge can move through two layers of Earth’s atmosphere, moving directly from the troposphere into the ionosphere. "Until now we didn't know whether gigantic jets actually made electrical contact with the upper atmosphere to discharge the thunderstorm", said Cummer.

Sprites are another, little known lightning phenomena. As part of the global electric circuit they are seen as red coloured lightning-like flashes that begin just above the great anvil clouds of large thunderstorm complexes, rising upwards into the ionosphere.

There have also been sightings, both by professionals and amateurs, of the other phenomenon known as blue jet lightning, elves and blue starters.

Ball lightning is so rare many scientists did not even believe it existed. Crew and stunned passengers on a Qantas 707, flying through a thunderstorm, reported a ball of lightning enter the aircraft, move quickly down the aisle and out through the back of the plane.

Seen as fast moving streaks of light, St. Elmo's fire, or tornadic supercells, can appear as violet sparks that bounce across the plane's windscreen, or leading edges of an aircraft. Often these are accompanied by a distinct hissing or buzzing sound.

Anyone who is fortunate to be able to record any of these phenomena on video, are asked to report their findings immediately.

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Press Release Submitted On: September 01, 2009 at 12:10 am
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