A research team led by Kyoto University, together with a network of citizen supporters, collected data from gamma-ray glows—a phenomenon in which high-energy photons crash into the earth from a rolling thunderbolts—which can illuminate the source of lightning.
Actually, thunder is caused by lightning. As Mark Twain wrote in 1908, “Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it’s the lightning that does the work.” But what caused the lightning remains a mystery.
In the collaborative Thundercloud Project, recording devices called “Cogamo”—short for compact gamma-ray monitor—were installed in every supporter’s house in the multi-point observation network in Kanazawa near the Japan Sea coast. In addition to high-energy environmental radiation data, Cogamo records and transmits real-time temperature, humidity, and light data to a web server.
“Gamma rays indicate the existence of a strong electric field in thunderstorms, where electrons can be accelerated to relativistic speeds,” said project leader Teruaki Enoto of KyotoU’s Department of Physics. Their paper “Citizen science observation of a gamma-ray glow associated with the initiation of a lightning strike” was published on 3 July 2023 in Geophysical Research Letters.
A lightning bulb lit up above the researchers’ heads when combining radio and radar observations, confirming the origin of lightning discharges in the region of accelerated electrons.
“Furthermore, we want to prove whether cosmic rays interact with this strong electric field to trigger lightning,” added Miwa Tsurumi, lead student of the research team.
The image of Zeus throwing bolts is probably not quite like that: high-energy particles from deep space—cosmic rays—collide with atoms in the atmosphere, producing showers in the air in large quantities of electrons and other particles. Thunderstorms amplify and accelerate high-energy electrons, leading to gamma ray emissions resulting from a series of collisions.
Enoto’s team posits that subsequent wind precipitation processes may be related to the triggering of lightning discharges.
Although phenomena such as high-energy particle characteristics of thunderstorms are not easy to observe, due in part to the rapid absorption of the atmosphere, gamma rays are farther away than electrons, resulting in a characteristic lightning in winter thunderstorms along the coast near Kanazawa. It was this glow that inspired the team’s hypothesis of lightning triggers.
“The Cogamo system also alerts Twitter every time the server detects a gamma-ray glow, so citizen supporters are instrumental: the larger the network of detectors, the greater the collective power and realization of citizen science,” concluded Yuko Ikkatai of Kanazawa University.
M. Tsurumi et al, Citizen Science Observation of a Gamma-Ray Glow Linked to the Initiation of Lightning Flashes, Geophysical Research Letters (2023). DOI: 10.1029/2023GL103612
Provided by Kyoto University
Citation: Citizen scientists observe gamma-ray glows that may reveal the origin of lightning (2023, July 13) retrieved on July 13, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07- citizen-scientists-gamma-ray-reveal-lightning .html
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