Unusual Phenomenon In the Clouds Makes Lightning Flash To Happen

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An unusual phenomenon discovered by the researchers at the University of New Hampshire Space Science Center​ throws a new light on the event and shows a further possible way for the lightning flash formation. They called the occurrence a “fast negative breakdown.” Lightning, as we know, starts deep in a cloud. The interesting thing here is that the newly discovered event acts in the opposite way to the present scientific view of how air carries electricity in thunderstorms.

Ningyu Liu, professor of physics, said​ that despite over 250 years of studies and research, the way the lightning begins is still an enigma. The unexpected revelation can offer the scientists more insight on how the lightning flash starts and extends, the professor added, and the experts say this study is a huge clue and a step forward toward more observations on the lightning formation.

The discovery of “fast positive breakdown” of air seemed to resolve – not long ago – the mystery of lightning inception as it matched the abiding theory the researchers held. Fast positive breakdown concerns the descending development of a route in the cloud, moving from the positive charge at the highest point of the cloud to the negative charge in the center of it. The pathway forms at 20 percent the speed of light and can cause the lightning to happen.

Lightning flash formation happens due to an unusual phenomenon in the clouds, new research showed

However, this discovery indicates that an ascending pathway that goes oppositely – at the same speed – can be developed in a thundercloud. This information presents the scientists with a new perspective of what is likely to happen inside a storm cloud, as it shows another way to start electricity in the atmosphere.

The scientists teamed up with the lightning research team from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, documenting quick negative breakdown in a Florida lightning storm at Kennedy Space Center by using radio waves generated deep inside the storm clouds. The radio waves then allowed the researchers to design an elaborated image of the sources and discover this phenomenon.

The fact that lightning creation within a cloud might be more bidirectional than it was initially suspected was recently admitted by Julia Tilles, a doctoral candidate in the UNH Space Science Center​. Scientists are persevering in developing the images from the data and hope to discover more about how frequently fast adverse breakdown events happen and what part of them can induce an actual lightning flash. This study is published in the journal Nature Communications.


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