It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
ScienceDaily (Apr. 14, 2010) — A lightning researcher at the University of Bath has discovered that during thunderstorms, giant natural particle accelerators can form 40 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.
On April 14, Dr. Martin Fullekrug presented his new work at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2010) in Glasgow.
When particularly intense lightning discharges in thunderstorms coincide with high-energy particles coming in from space (cosmic rays), nature provides the right conditions to form a giant particle accelerator above the thunderclouds.
The cosmic rays strip off electrons from air molecules and these electrons are accelerated upwards by the electric field of the lightning discharge. The free electrons and the lightning electric field then make up a natural particle accelerator.
The accelerated electrons then develop into a narrow particle beam which can propagate from the lowest level of the atmosphere (the troposphere), through the middle atmosphere and into near-Earth space, where the energetic electrons are trapped in the Earth's radiation belt and can eventually cause problems for orbiting satellites.
These are energetic events and for the blink of an eye, the power of the electron beam can be as large as the power of a small nuclear power plant.
Dr Fullekrug comments: "It's intriguing to see that nature creates particle accelerators just a few miles above our heads. Once these new missions study them in more detail from space we should get a far better idea of how they actually work. They provide a fascinating example of the interaction between the Earth and the wider Universe."