Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere

Victor P. Pasko, Mark A. Stanley, John David Mathews, Umran S. Inan, Troy G. Wood

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    190 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    For over a century, numerous undocumented reports have appeared about unusual large-scale luminous phenomena above thunderclouds and, more than 80 years ago, it was suggested that an electrical discharge could bridge the gap between a thundercloud and the upper atmosphere. Since then, two classes of vertically extensive optical flashes above thunderclouds have been identified - sprites and blue jets. Sprites initiate near the base of the ionosphere, develop very rapidly downwards at speeds which can exceed 107 ms−1 (ref. 15), and assume many different geometrical forms. In contrast, blue jets develop upwards from cloud tops at speeds of the order of 105 ms−1 and are characterized by a blue conical shape. But no experimental data related to sprites or blue jets have been reported which conclusively indicate that they establish a direct path of electrical contact between a thundercloud and the lower ionosphere. Here we report a video recording of a blue jet propagating upwards from a thundercloud to an altitude of about 70 km, taken at the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico. Above an altitude of 42 km - normally the upper limit for blue jets and the lower terminal altitude for sprites - the flash exhibited some features normally observed in sprites. As we observed this phenomenon above a relatively small thunderstorm cell, we speculate that it may be common and therefore represent an unaccounted for component of the global electric circuit.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)152-154
    Number of pages3
    JournalNature
    Volume416
    Issue number6877
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Mar 14 2002

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    Puerto Rico
    Video Recording
    Atmosphere

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    Cite this

    Pasko, V. P., Stanley, M. A., Mathews, J. D., Inan, U. S., & Wood, T. G. (2002). Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere. Nature, 416(6877), 152-154. https://doi.org/10.1038/416152a
    Pasko, Victor P. ; Stanley, Mark A. ; Mathews, John David ; Inan, Umran S. ; Wood, Troy G. / Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere. In: Nature. 2002 ; Vol. 416, No. 6877. pp. 152-154.
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    abstract = "For over a century, numerous undocumented reports have appeared about unusual large-scale luminous phenomena above thunderclouds and, more than 80 years ago, it was suggested that an electrical discharge could bridge the gap between a thundercloud and the upper atmosphere. Since then, two classes of vertically extensive optical flashes above thunderclouds have been identified - sprites and blue jets. Sprites initiate near the base of the ionosphere, develop very rapidly downwards at speeds which can exceed 107 ms−1 (ref. 15), and assume many different geometrical forms. In contrast, blue jets develop upwards from cloud tops at speeds of the order of 105 ms−1 and are characterized by a blue conical shape. But no experimental data related to sprites or blue jets have been reported which conclusively indicate that they establish a direct path of electrical contact between a thundercloud and the lower ionosphere. Here we report a video recording of a blue jet propagating upwards from a thundercloud to an altitude of about 70 km, taken at the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico. Above an altitude of 42 km - normally the upper limit for blue jets and the lower terminal altitude for sprites - the flash exhibited some features normally observed in sprites. As we observed this phenomenon above a relatively small thunderstorm cell, we speculate that it may be common and therefore represent an unaccounted for component of the global electric circuit.",
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    Pasko, VP, Stanley, MA, Mathews, JD, Inan, US & Wood, TG 2002, 'Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere', Nature, vol. 416, no. 6877, pp. 152-154. https://doi.org/10.1038/416152a

    Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere. / Pasko, Victor P.; Stanley, Mark A.; Mathews, John David; Inan, Umran S.; Wood, Troy G.

    In: Nature, Vol. 416, No. 6877, 14.03.2002, p. 152-154.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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    Pasko VP, Stanley MA, Mathews JD, Inan US, Wood TG. Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere. Nature. 2002 Mar 14;416(6877):152-154. https://doi.org/10.1038/416152a