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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.


09.01.2017 Sebastien Celestin Arxiv.org (Submitted on 31 Dec 2016)

Characteristics of lightning, sprites, and human-induced emissions observed by nadir-viewing cameras on board the International Space Station

The Lightning and Sprites Observation (LSO) experiment was designed to test a new concept of nadir-viewing sprite measurement on board the International Space Station using spectral differentiation methods for lightning and sprite identification. It was composed of two calibrated cameras: one equipped with a narrowband filter at 763 nm to maximize the contrast between sprites and lightning, and the other to monitor lightning. The LSO was operated at night during 15 days from 2001 to 2004 during which 197 lightning flashes, several sprites, hundreds of gas flares, and tens of cities were analyzed. The main strength of this experiment was its high spatial resolution of about 400 m. The structural details of some lightning are thus observed highlighting complex systems. Some features such as the nonlinear increase of the lightning-illuminated cloud top area with the peak radiance and the radial decrease of the lightning flash radiance were quantified. The median area is 129 km2 with median minor and major axes of 12 and 16 km. Two methods of sprite identification are presented and applied to the most intense sprite events observed by LSO. The sprite diameter is 5 km and it is shifted of about 22 km from the center of the parent lightning. A ratio of 1.7% is deduced for lightning flashes between the radiances measured by both cameras. These observations should be useful for the preparation or the analysis of future space missions dedicated to nadir-viewing observations of sprites.

DOI: 10.1002/2015JD024524

22.04.2016 Thomas Farges, Elisabeth Blanc Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Similarity analysis of the streamer zone of Blue Jets

Multiple observations of Blue Jets (BJ)) show that BJ emits a fan of streamers similar to a laboratory leader. Moreover,in the exponential atmosphere those long streamers grow preferentially upward, producing a narrow coneconfined by the aperture angle. It was also noticed that BJ are similar to the streamer zone of a leader (streamer corona) and the modeling studies based on the streamers fractal structure were conducted. Objective of this paper is to study the fractal dimension of the bunch of streamer channels emitted by BJ, at different altitude and under the varying reduced electric field. This similarity analysis has been done in three steps: First we described the dendritic structure of streamers in corona discharge applying the fractal theory. Then using this model and the data from existing laboratory experiments we obtained the fractal dimension of the branching streamer channels. Finally the model was validated by the observations of BJ available from the literature.


08.01.2016 N.A. Popov, M.N. Shneider, G. M. Milikh arXiv.org, Submitted on 31 Dec 2015

The energy spectrum of X-rays from rocket-triggered lightning

Although the production of X-rays from natural and rocket-triggered lightning leaders have been studied in detail over the last 10 years, the energy spectrum of the X-rays has never been well measured because the X-rays are emitted in very short but intense bursts that result in pulse pileup in the detectors. The energy spectrum is important because it provides information about the source mechanism for producing the energetic runaway electrons and about the electric fields that they traverse. We have recently developed and operated the first spectrometer for the energetic radiation from lightning. The instrument is part of the Atmospheric Radiation Imagery and Spectroscopy (ARIS) project and will be referred to as ARIS-S (ARIS Spectrometer). It consists of seven inline image NaI(Tl)/photomultiplier tube scintillation detectors with different thicknesses of attenuators, ranging from no attenuator to more than inline image of lead placed over the detector (all the detectors are in a inline image thick aluminum box). Using X-ray pulses preceding 48 return strokes in 8 rocket-triggered lightnings, we found that the spectrum of X-rays from leaders is too soft to be consistent with Relativistic Runaway Electron Avalanche. It has a power law dependence on the energies of the photons, and the power index, λ, is between 2.5 and 3.5. We present the details of the design of the instrument and the results of the analysis of the lightning data acquired during the summer of 2012.

02.11.2015 S. Arabshahi, J. R. Dwyer, E. S. Cramer, J. E. Grove, C. Gwon, J. D. Hill, D. M. Jordan, R. J. Lucia, I. B. Vodopiyanov, M. A. Uman, H. K. Rassoul Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres, 26 October 2015, DOI: 10.1002/2015JD023217

11th Conference "Plasma Physics in the solar system."

From 15 to 19 February 2016 Space Research Institute (Moscow) will organize the 11th Conference "Plasma Physics in the solar system."


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