Lightning ‘Superbolts’ Are Real, Two New Studies Confirm Geophysics, geoscience



“ Superbolts ” are distinct from typical lightning bolts and can be over 1,000 times brighter, according to two new papers published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

This image from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper shows a lightning bolt producing super-voltages over the southeastern United States on February 19, 2019. The lightning traveled several hundred kilometers and lasted nearly 7 seconds.  Image credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This image from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper shows a lightning bolt producing super-voltages over the southeastern United States on February 19, 2019. The lightning traveled several hundred kilometers and lasted nearly 7 seconds. Image credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In 1977, American scientist Turman Bobby identified a lightning bolt 100 times brighter than normal in data from Vela bomb-monitoring satellites.

This observation sparked a debate as to whether these “ superbolt ” events were the result of an undiscovered alien lightning process (new physics), if they were produced by a particular type of rendered lightning event. possible by favorable conditions in the electrified cloud (unique physics), or if the superbolts were just normal lightning bolts in ordinary thunderstorms that were observed by an orbiting sensor with a clear view of the hot lightning channel (lightning normal).

“When you see a lightning bolt from space, it will look much darker than if you saw it from ground level because the clouds are blocking some of the light,” said Dr Michael Peterson, remote sensing researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, lead author of both studies.

“We propose that superbolts generally result from rare positively charged cloud-to-ground events, rather than the more common negatively charged cloud-to-ground events characteristic of most lightning.

In the first study, Dr Peterson and his colleague Dr Erin Lay of the Los Alamos National Laboratory used the Geostationary Lightning Mapper on board the GOES-16 satellite to measure the optical energy of lightning from space.

They analyzed two years of continuous measurements – from January 2018 to January 2020 – across the Americas.

They discovered that a myriad of lighting processes can produce a super-volt: intracloud pulses and cloud-to-ground runs with a range of peak currents.

However, the absolute brightest cases – at least 1,000 times more energetic than normal – cluster in some areas known for very large thunderstorms.

“A lightning strike even exceeded 3 terawatts of power – thousands of times stronger than ordinary lightning detected from space,” said Dr Peterson.

“It’s important to understand these extreme events because it tells us what lightning is capable of.”

In the second study, Dr Peterson and Dr Matt Kirkland of Los Alamos National Laboratory analyzed data from the Rapid Orbiting Transient Event (FORTE) satellite to gain a better understanding of superbolts.

“We have found that lower super-voltages result from both scenarios: some are from normal lightning, while others are caused by strong cloud-to-ground blasts that tend to occur in oceanic regions in winter. and often near the coast of Japan “. they said.

“The most powerful superbolts, however, come primarily from powerful hits and may still earn the superbolt distinction.

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Michael Peterson and Erin Lay. Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) Observations of the brightest lightning in the Americas. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, published online November 12, 2020; doi: 10.1029 / 2020JD033378

Michael Peterson and Matt W. Kirkland. Revisiting the detection of optical lightning superbolts. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, published online November 12, 2020; doi: 10.1029 / 2020JD033377


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