Electron Acceleration Mechanisms in Thunderstorms
Thunderstorms produce strong electric fields over regions on the order of kilometer. The corresponding electric potential differences are on the order of 100 MV. Secondary cosmic rays reaching these regions may be significantly accelerated and even amplified in relativistic runaway avalanche processes. These phenomena lead to enhancements of the high-energy background radiation observed by detectors on the ground and on board aircraft. Moreover, intense submillisecond gamma-ray bursts named terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) produced in thunderstorms are detected from low Earth orbit satellites. When passing through the atmosphere, these gamma-rays are recognized to produce secondary relativistic electrons and positrons rapidly trapped in the geomagnetic field and injected into the near-Earth space environment. In the present work, we attempt to give an overview of the current state of research on high-energy phenomena associated with thunderstorms.