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Solar Wind Modulates Lightning - Mechanism Unknown

  1. May 15, 2014 #1


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    Activity on the Sun is sparking lightning strikes here on Earth, a study suggests.

    The finding was surprising, said Dr Scott, because it had been thought that an increase in the solar wind would have the opposite effect.

    He explained: "It's unexpected, because these streams of particles bring with them an enhanced magnetic field - and this shields Earth from the very high-energy cosmic rays from outside of the Solar System - these are generated when supernovae explode, and they accelerate particles up to the speed of light."

    Previous research has shown that cosmic rays from space can boost the rate of lightning, and it had been thought that an increased shielding effect from the solar particles would cause a decrease in the number of strikes.

    "Instead what we actually saw was a marked increase in lightning. It turns out these solar winds bring with them a slightly lower energy population of particle - and these are enhancing the lighting rate," Dr Scott said.

    The team is not exactly sure of the mechanism, but said that the particles may be penetrating storm clouds, making it easier for them to discharge electrical energy as a bolts of lightning.

    However, while the questions of how still need to be answered, there is plenty of information about when the particles arrive, which could help with storm forecasting.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2014 #2
    Fascinating. I can't help but wonder if continued measurement will shed light on the relationship between Upper Atmosphere TLEs and Tropospheric Lightning.
  4. May 27, 2014 #3


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    This paper, though lengthy and touching many sciences, may answer some of your questions.
    The authors are Simoes, Pfaff, Berthelier and Klenzing.

    NASA/GSFC Heliophysics Science Division, Space Weather Laboratory, ...
    Investigation of coupling mechanisms between the troposphere and the ...
    atmospheric, ionospheric and magnetospheric sources, from lightning and
    transient luminous .... modulates (by the solar cycle) the upper boundary and
    influences cavity ...
    Last edited: May 27, 2014
  5. May 29, 2014 #4


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    A "white tornado-like beam dancing atop this cumulonimbus cloud" was featured in a 4 minute video on today's edition of spaceweather.com (5/29/14)

    One reader suggests that it is a "jumping sundog." Lightning discharges in thunderclouds can temporarily change the electric field above the clouds where charged ice crystals were reflecting sunlight. The new electric field quickly re-orients the geometric crystals to a new orientation that reflects sunlight differently.

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