Florida Institute of Technology researchers are trying to solve one of the great mysteries in nature: how thunderstorms make lightning. Because, in principle, lightning is a big spark it should behave like other sparks—like the ones created when we touch a door knob on a dry day. Scientists have accumulated evidence, however, that lightning sometimes behaves in very un-spark-like ways.
Lightning can start in regions of thunderstorms that have relatively low electric fields and, so, should create no sparks. Because lightning obviously is made by thunderstorms, scientists are left wondering what they are missing.
Three such scientists, Joseph Dwyer and Hamid Rassoul from Florida Tech and Martin Uman from the University of Florida, recently published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research titled, "Remote measurement of thunderstorm electrostatic fields." It describes their new technique to remotely measure thunderstorm electric fields on the ground.
By measuring small radio pulses made by cosmic-rays passing through these storms, they calculate that they can reconstruct the electric fields along the high-energy particle's paths. This could allow them to measure any lightning initiation pockets that might exist.
One idea is that thunderstorms generate big electric fields capable of making sparks, but those strong fields are localized in very small pockets—too small to be easily detected by the balloons and aircraft sent into thunderclouds to measure the fields. Although this seems reasonable, the problem has been how to test it. Indeed, for decades scientists have struggled in vain to find such pockets where lightning might be initiated.
"Cosmic-rays are high-energy particles from outer space that constantly rain down on our planet. They form a natural probe for measuring thunderstorms," explained Dwyer, professor of physics and space sciences, who is leading the research effort. "Thunderstorms are big, violent, and dangerous places. Cosmic-ray air showers allow us to study them from a relatively safe location on the ground."
"It's a daunting task to find these high field regions," explained Rassoul, professor of physics and space sciences. "Thunderstorms are large and the chance that a balloon would find its way into exactly the right place at the right time to catch lightning initiation is small."
This summer at the UF/Florida Tech International Center for Lightning Research and Testing at Camp Blanding, Fla., scientists are conducting experiments to search for these lightning initiation pockets. If successful, researchers will be closer to understanding lightning, a phenomenon that has mystified people for thousands of years.
Karen Rhine | EurekAlert!
Predicting unpredictability: Information theory offers new way to read ice cores
07.12.2016 | Santa Fe Institute
Sea ice hit record lows in November
07.12.2016 | University of Colorado at Boulder
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine