Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Giant blue jet caught on film

14.03.2002


Flashes this big might explain the 300,000-volt difference between the ionosphere and the ground


A sprite is like a blue jet but travels the other way.
© Uni. Alaska Fairbanks


Blue jets connect Earth’s electric circuit.

Video images captured in Puerto Rico suggest that blue flashes of light, much like lightning, feed energy from thunderstorms up into the Earth’s ionosphere - a blanket of electrically charged air some 70 kilometres above the ground1.

Some researchers suspect that such phenomena may also fix nitrogen for plants to use and interact with the ozone layer2.



The images, taken in September 2001, show the largest blue jet ever to be caught on camera. "It really was a gigantic flash," says Victor Pasko of Pennsylvania State University, who led the observation team. "With the naked eye you could even see it rising," he recalls.

Blue jets are often associated with thunderstorms, but until now were thought to be relatively small. The Puerto Rican jet stretched from the top of a small thunderstorm to the lower edge of the ionosphere, filling an estimated 6,000 cubic kilometres of atmosphere.

Flashes this big might explain the 300,000-volt difference between the charge of the ionosphere and the ground. Physicists have long agreed that something must link the two regions to complete the global electrical circuit (GEC). Until the latest film, nothing had been seen that reached high enough from the cloud tops to do the job.

"We knew the currents were there, but there was no visual evidence" says Davis Sentman, the physicist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks who discovered blue jets in 1994. The film "really advances the science in this field", he says.

That the sighting was associated with the kind of small, localized storm common worldwide, suggests that large blue jets could also be common. If so, they might influence atmospheric chemistry: their electrical energy could encourage gases to react with one another. "The effect may be there but we don’t know if it’s dramatically important," admits Pasko.

Sprites, elves, trolls and pixies

In the past decade, high-speed, light-sensitive cameras have allowed scientists to describe a menagerie of electrical phenomena, which bear names that would be more at home in a Tolkien novel than a physics textbook. Sprites, blue jets and associated flashes called elves, crawlers, trolls and pixies are all fleeting electrical discharges that accompany thunderstorms.

All these phenomena are hard to spot, as they last for less than a blink of an eye and are obscured from below by cloud. They can be glimpsed along storm fronts and from aeroplanes flying above the clouds.

Sprites, which might also help to maintain the GEC, work a bit like blue jets in reverse. They are pink, or sometimes red, and occur when current from just below the ionosphere moves downwards towards thunderstorms. As with jets, this current excites atoms along the way, causing them to emit light.

References

  1. Pasko, V. P., Stanley, M. A., Mathews, J. D., Inan, U. S. & Wood, T. G. Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere. Nature, 416, 152 - 154, (2002).
  2. Mishin, E. Ozone layer perturbation by a single blue jet. Geophysical Research Letters, 24, 1919 - 1922, (1997).


TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Monitoring lava lake levels in Congo volcano
16.05.2018 | Seismological Society of America

nachricht Ice stream draining Greenland Ice Sheet sensitive to changes over past 45,000 years
14.05.2018 | Oregon State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>