Scientists Reveal New Info on ‘Giant Jets’ of Lightning in the Atmosphere

Using new 3D radio and optical mapping, scientists have released more information about a phenomenon called a “gigantic jet,” which is a massive electrical discharge that shoots out from the top of a thunderstorm and connects to the lower edge of the space.

This phenomenon, which is not clearly visible from the ground, has been reported by pilots and astronauts over the years, but is not often filmed. In 2017, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) managed to capture images of the phenomenon that gave scientists a new perspective on the electrical activity that takes place above tropical thunderstorms.

While useful, these images weren’t as interesting to scientists as a video clip captured by pilot Chris Holmes as he flew over the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan Peninsula in 2019. The clip of Holmes is one of, if not the only, clips of a giant jet from this perspective.

“I was flying 35,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan Peninsula when a super cell started pulsing with light,” he said. Space Weather at the time. “It wasn’t just an ordinary flash, though. The cell was also creating a lot of sprites and jets jumping from the Thunderhead.

But now scientists have captured new images of a huge giant jet of lightning that originated above an Oklahoma thunderstorm and is one of the most powerful gigantic jets studied to date. It carried 100 times more electrical charge than a standard thunderbolt, Physical reports.

The jet was filmed by a nearby citizen scientist armed with a low-light camera and while the footage isn’t as stark as the clip captured by Homes in 2019 – Holmes’ video is still used as the primary visual reference for the jet. phenomenon — a new study published last week in Scientists progress by lead author Levi Boggs says he has provided never-before-seen detail about these massive atmospheric phenomena.

“I was really intrigued because sightings of gigantic jets are really rare — only a few a year if that,” Boggs said. Vice in an email.

“So I take any chance to study them, because trying to capture them with dedicated field campaigns is very difficult. I heard about this video by chance, and luckily the event in the video was also observed by a network of ground-based radio mapping and optical instruments in geostationary orbit.

As explained in the study, occasionally lightning will emerge from the top of a thunderstorm and connect to the lower edge of space and form a gigantic jet of energy. But in addition to the massive electrical charge these jets emit, this particular giant jet puzzled Boggs because it did not occur where these jets are normally observed. Usually giant jets occur in tropical environments and are located near parts of strongly convective storms, but this one took place in an area of ​​weak convection, Vice Explain.

(A) GOES Advanced Baseline Imager channel 13 (IR) brightness temperature, (B) NEXRAD (Next Generation Weather Radar) reflectivity [KFDR, 02:24 universal time (UT)], and (C) National Lightning Detection Network total lightning density of the convective environment associated with the gigantic jet. The box size for (C) is 2 km by 2 km and the interval is ± 5 min around the time of the event. The gigantic jet is indicated by a cross in each panel, with a video image of the fully developed jet shown in (A). N, north. |

“There was no lightning activity prior to the gigantic jet in the mother storm cell, which has never been the case based on past observations,” Boggs said. “This allowed the parent storm to build up a significant amount of electrical charge, which allowed the gigantic jet to transfer the largest amount of charge ever recorded into the ionosphere (300 coulombs).”

Although these jets have been observed and studied for the past two decades, no specific observing system is in place for them and therefore detections are rare. But this time, Boggs and his colleagues were lucky.

Not only was this particular jet captured by a local citizen scientist, it was also detected by a mapping system for very high frequency (VHF) radio signals triggered by lightning strikes, two next-generation weather radar stations ( NEXRAD) and NOAA’s geostationary operational system. Environmental Satellite Network (GOES).

As a result, Boggs and his colleagues were able to access an enormous amount of information about this particular giant jet that allowed them to learn much more about it and share it with the scientific community.

“The charge transfer is nearly double that of a gigantic jet and is comparable to the largest ever recorded for cloud-to-ground blows,” the study explains.

While the study provides a much more detailed look at the giant jets, there are still plenty of unanswered questions, including a big one: why is this even happening to begin with?

“For some reason, there’s usually a suppression of cloud-to-ground discharges,” says Boggs. Physical. “There is a buildup of negative charge, and then we think the conditions at the top of the storm are weakening the topmost charge layer, which is usually positive. Absent the lightning discharges we normally see, the jet gigantic can relieve the accumulation of excessive negative charges in the cloud.

Scientists will continue to research this strange phenomenon and hopefully can answer more questions about it in the future.


Picture credits: Levi Boggs, et al, “Upward propagation of gigantic jets revealed by 3D radio and optical mapping”

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