Micro satellite to study atmospheric gamma ray flashes

From NASA Science News: Firefly Mission to Study Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes

High-energy bursts of gamma rays typically occur far out in space, perhaps near black holes or other high-energy cosmic phenomena. So imagine scientists’ surprise in the mid-1990s when they found these powerful gamma ray flashes happening right here on Earth, in the skies overhead.

They’re called Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes, or TGFs, and very little is known about them. They seem to have a connection with lightning, but TGFs themselves are something entirely different.

Right: An artist’s concept of TGFs. Credit: NASA/Robert Kilgore [more]

“In fact,” says Doug Rowland of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, “before the 1990s nobody knew they even existed. And yet they’re the most potent natural particle accelerators on Earth.”

Individual particles in a TGF acquire a huge amount of energy, sometimes in excess of 20 mega-electron volts (MeV). In contrast, the colorful auroras that light up the skies at high latitudes are powered by particles with less than one thousandth as much energy.

At this stage, there are more questions about TGFs than answers. What causes these high-energy flashes? Do they help trigger lightning–or does lightning trigger them? Could they be responsible for some of the high-energy particles in the Van Allen radiation belts, which can damage satellites?

To investigate, Rowland and his colleagues at GSFC, Siena College, Universities Space Research Association, and the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences are planning to launch a tiny, football-sized satellite called Firefly in 2010 or 2011. Because of its small size, Firefly will cost less than $1 million — about 100 times cheaper than what satellite missions normally cost. Part of the cost savings comes from launching Firefly under the National Science Foundation’s CubeSat program, which launches small satellites as “stowaways” aboard rockets carrying larger satellites into space, rather than requiring dedicated rocket launches.

Below: An artist’s concept of Firefly on the lookout for TGFs above a thunderstorm. Firefly will make simultaneous measurements of energetic electrons, gamma rays, and the radio and optical signatures of the lightning discharge. [more]

see caption

If successful, Firefly will return the first simultaneous measurements of TGFs and lightning. Most of what’s known about TGFs to date has been learned from missions meant to observe gamma rays coming from deep space, such as NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which discovered TGFs in 1994. As it stared out into space, Compton caught fleeting glimpses of gamma rays out of the corner of its eye, so to speak. The powerful flashes were coming–surprise!–from Earth’s atmosphere.

Subsequent data from Compton and other space telescopes have provided a tantalizingly incomplete picture of how TGFs occur:

In the skies above a thunderstorm, powerful electric fields generated by the storm stretch upward for many miles into the upper atmosphere. These electric fields accelerate free electrons, whisking them to speeds approaching the speed of light. When these ultra-high speed electrons collide with molecules in the air, the collisions release high-energy gamma rays as well as more electrons, setting up a cascade of collisions and perhaps more TGFs.

Right: Doug Rowland, principal investigator for Firefly stands next to the a life-sized model of the tiny satellite. Credit: NASA/Pat Izzo

To the eye, a TGF probably wouldn’t look like much. Unlike lightning, most of a TGF’s energy is released as invisible gamma rays, not visible light. They don’t produce colorful bursts of light like sprites and other lightning-related phenomena. Nevertheless, these unseen eruptions could help explain why brilliant lightning strikes occur.

A longstanding mystery about lightning is how a strike gets started. Scientists know that the turbulence inside a thundercloud separates electric charge, building up enormous voltages. But the voltage needed to ionize air and generate a spark is about 10 times greater than the voltage typically found inside storm clouds.

“We know how the clouds charge up,” Rowland says, “we just don’t know how they discharge. That is the mystery.”

TGFs could provide that spark. By generating a quick burst of electron flow, TGFs might help lightning strikes get started, Rowland suggests. “Perhaps this phenomenon is why we have lightning,” he says.

If so, there ought to be many more TGFs each day than currently known. Observations by Compton and other space telescopes indicate that there may be fewer than 100 TGFs worldwide each day. Lightning strikes millions of times per day worldwide. That’s quite a gap.

Then again, Compton and other space telescopes before Firefly weren’t actually looking for TGFs. So perhaps it’s not surprising that they didn’t find many. Firefly will specifically look for gamma ray flashes coming from the atmosphere, not space, conducting the first focused survey of TGF activity. Firefly’s sensors will even be able to detect flashes that are mostly obscured by the intervening air, which is a strong absorber of gamma rays (a fact that protects people on the ground from the energy in these flashes). Firefly’s survey will give scientists much better estimates of the number of TGFs worldwide and help determine if the link to lightning is real.

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71 thoughts on “Micro satellite to study atmospheric gamma ray flashes

  1. sprites and jets and now tgfs – too bad they didn’t make it tgifs (terrestrial gamma-ray “intermitent” flashes or something along that line). It keeps getting stranger and stranger. It also makes me wonder just how much effect cosmic ray bursts have in the triggering (and maybe path determination) also.

  2. Great name for a satellite. I have to wonder if they named the satellite after the really good, but short lived, TV show Firefly. If you haven’t seen that show, I strongly recommend you watch it and you’ll be hooked like I am on it. And after you watch the TV show, don’t forget the movie Serenity based on the TV show. Firefly fans are very rabid, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn the satellites were named after the TV show. NASA has already named something Serenity after the movie. (I think it was an international space station module.) (And I think I’m right; but I could be wrong.)

  3. Is it not comforting to know that our understanding of the physical world that surrounds us is not much better than the understanding a stone age dweller had.
    It behoves us to be sanguine when we realise that we are dwarfed by our ignorance.

  4. I am curious. Has there been any study of atmospheric gamma ray flashes using high flying research aircraft, such as the ER-2? It strikes as a reasonable thing to try.
    Mike Ramsey

  5. But more seriously – why is it safe to sail boats with aluminium masts in thunderstorms, but not play golf with metal shafted clubs?
    How often do lightning conductors get struck? There seems to be a role for tall metal objects to seep away charge.

  6. From thunderstorms´ lighting. And do not forget the thermo-atmosphere, where the atmosphere´s temperature reaches 2500 K degrees!. All cosmology must be revisited. There isn´t any binding creed to believe in for open minded people.
    There is neither a Rome nor a Pope anywhere to forbid us to seek for the truth.
    Dogmas/laws are no other than relative references, correlations which only work within relative parameters. Real laws should be of general application.
    Phantoms which can not be reproduced experimentally are just that: Phantoms, “tricks” devised for substituting positive reasoning. As such they reveal feeble minds who do not dare to simply admit: “I don´t know” and inmediately move ahead to find an empirical answer in the lab.
    BTW, the other day, someone said that any progress in science must be the exclusive outcome of a long mathematical elaboration even involving one´s elbow wear solving a lot of differential equations.Such a person forgot that computers compute and solve mathematical problems using simple arithmetics..and that mathematical computations should be done AFTER not before experiments, and if complicated or if needing rounding, adjusting or massaging, something is wrong.

  7. In the skies above a thunderstorm, powerful electric fields generated by the storm stretch upward for many miles into the upper atmosphere. These electric fields accelerate free electrons, whisking them to speeds approaching the speed of light. When these ultra-high speed electrons collide with molecules in the air, the collisions release high-energy gamma rays as well as more electrons
    Is it the Sun?, is it Jupiter?, is it a phantom and “tricky” “black hole”?….is its Superman?…
    No!, it’s our Earth!!!

  8. Going back a few years, I do remember reading that someone was studying whether cosmic rays possibly lay down ion channels which allows lightning to do its thing. It somewhat resolved the order of magnitude discrepancy between the cloud charge and the dielectric strength of the atmosphere. Was this Svensmark?
    Also, in 1997, I observed some awesome sprite, jet, and elves and was able to photograph a unique event. Here is my observation from that event on Aug 27, 2997:
    ” Another phenomenon, captured on film also, was this short-lived utterly intensely bright point like source that lasted between 3/4 to 1 second. This object left a “very bright star like” image on the photo. A second one of these was captured on a later frame. Both frames have clouds completely blotting out the stars in the background sky where these things occurred. I would estimate the brightness of the visually observed one to be a couple to several times the brightness of Sirius although “much finer” a point like source than Sirius. Strange looking! There was not the same glare to the eye as there is when looking at Sirius. The brightness of this object indeed had a light curve, starting out dim and very rapidly brightening, then suddenly disappearing at peak brightness. ”
    Sprites and jets are my favorite as they require one to ‘hunt’ them…
    (disclaimer, I am a low end amateur astronomer)
    GV

  9. Powerful gamma ray bursts, above the clouds and heading into space?
    Well, now we know what happened to the mythical flying dragons. The gamma rays killed them, and when they fell to the ground there wasn’t enough left to leave buried remains or fossils!
    Seriously though, if such bursts are consistent with lightning in general, this could impact theories of possible alien life evolving on gas giants and other planets where the liquid water zone is significantly above the ground. And it may need consideration in the proposed atmospheric colonization of Venus up in the “temperate zone,” among other things.

  10. [quote]
    In the skies above a thunderstorm, powerful electric fields generated by the storm stretch upward for many miles into the upper atmosphere. These electric fields accelerate free electrons, whisking them to speeds approaching the speed of light.
    [/quote]

    That’s quite an extraordinary claim. They’re basically saying that thunderstorms are particle accelerators capable of moving electrons at speeds rivaling the acceleration caused by supernovas.
    The 20 meV energy these electrons have is found naturally in some cosmic rays. And 1% of cosmic rays are electrons. Assuming it’s cosmic rays causing this wouldn’t require thunderstorms to possess supernova-like abilities.
    Another alternative would be the solar wind, which has 1000 times the power of the Earth’s auroras, exactly the energy stated in the article. I don’t know how you’d get a solar wind effect (other than the auroras) inside Earth’s atmosphere though.
    Hopefully, they’ll make the data from this satellite available to the public. It’s a very interesting experiment.
    Anyway, I’m linking my video to plasma physics because I think it’s related to the article.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUUvqtwL8hY&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

  11. The more I think about this, I am reminded of N. Tesla; who veiwed the world I think, as a large generator. Free energy for us all, just by letting the armature & stator(earth), rotate as usual and somehow(his tower & grounding system?) as a means of tapping into a natural process; capturing electricity. Then transmit it through the air. This FTG effect sounds as if it is another way that the Earth naturaly discharges into space. I wonder if the AGW folks have a model for this as well…?

  12. Doesn’t lightning occur on Jupiter and other planets or moons? Seems like they would emit the same gamma rays.

  13. This thread will end like all sun or astronomical-related ones here – the EU (electric universe) street evangelists will crowd in with their electric gospel and Leif Svalgaard will heroically fight them off – wait and see…

  14. Carbon-based life form (07:38:11) , possibly there is lightening on Jupiter or some moons that have atmospheres, but wouldn’t it be easier to see the effect on Mars and Venus which are closer to us? — John M Reynolds

  15. James Sexton (07:37:34)
    Also OT but hoping it’ll get it’s own thread….
    http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/science_technology/leaked+climate+emails+aposhacked+by+spiesapos/3522437
    The UK’s Channel 4 seems to have stolen the Beeb’s Leftist thunder by wheeling out the UK’s ex-Chief Scientist who espouses that the Climategate emails were hacked by a national “foreign intelligence agency” and also completes the online piece with some nice quotes from the Lesser Milliband.
    Nonsense, utter nonsense.

  16. In the skies above a thunderstorm, powerful electric fields generated by the storm stretch upward for many miles into the upper atmosphere. These electric fields accelerate free electrons, whisking them to speeds approaching the speed of light. When these ultra-high speed electrons collide with molecules in the air, the collisions release high-energy gamma rays as well as more electrons, setting up a cascade of collisions and perhaps more TGFs.

    This is a very similar process they are describing to what happens in a Geiger counter tube. In the Geiger-Müller tube you use the effect to detect radiation, but the physics and conditions required are almost identical. A rarefied gas is exposed to a high strength electrical field (the Geiger tubes I worked with had a potential of about 1100v across the tube). Once a detectable form or radiation passes through the wall of the tube and interacts with the gas it initiates an avalanche of sympathetic electron emissions as the high potential accelerates electrons toward the positive potential. As these electrons accelerate they crash into other gas atoms and strip off additional electrons in a cascade of emissions producing a detectable voltage pulse as all the electrons arrive at the positive pole.
    If the mean free path between emission and absorption was long enough (as would be the case in the extremely rarefied gasses at very high altitudes, some of the emitted electrons would avoid interacting with gas molecules until they had been accelerated across great distances and very high electrical potentials. Due to the density gradient caused by the earths gravity field this escape would be more likely in an upward direction as the mean free path would get longer as you went upward.
    Hmmm yet another “unknown”, seems things are not as settled as some would like to believe.
    Larry

  17. OT, but deserving attention:
    Climate E-Mails Possibly Stolen by Spies, Say U.K. Experts

    Britain’s former chief scientist claimed Monday that a sophisticated hacking operation that led to the leaking of hundreds of climate e-mails was likely carried out by a foreign intelligence agency.
    Sir David King, who was Tony Blair’s chief scientific adviser for seven years until 2007, told The Independent newspaper that the hacking and selective leaking of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit in East Anglia bore all the hallmarks of a coordinated spying operation.

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/02/01/scientist-climate-e-mails-possibly-stolen-spies/

  18. “Wade (05:26:10) :
    Great name for a satellite. I have to wonder if they named the satellite after the really good, but short lived, TV show Firefly.”
    Well they named a shuttle enterprise so if it is named for the TV show a micro satellite is the least it deserves.

  19. TFN Johnson (06:20:40) :
    > But more seriously – why is it safe to sail boats with aluminium masts in thunderstorms, but not play golf with metal shafted clubs?
    Lightning hits mast, current flows down mast, may find another conductor to get to water or arcs a short distance. Human likely out of current path.
    Lightning hits golf club, current travels to grip, arcs to human, travels through body and over wet skin, arcs through soles of shoes. Current that flow over wet skin flashes wet into steam which blows clothing off body.
    Several years ago I read a newspaper article that recommended golfers carry a club pointed at the sky as a lightning rod. The source apparently didn’t realize that one role of lightning rods is to attract lightning so that it hits a well grounded conductor instead of entering the building.
    There are advantages for folks to know something about science….

  20. “The Electric Sky” or “The Electric Universe” or a “Plasma Universe”…,etc. just simple and beautiful.

  21. James Sexton (07:37:34) :

    Way OT, but I had a good laugh over it. It seems it is time for 007 to come out of retirement!!! http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/02/01/scientist-climate-e-mails-possibly-stolen-spies/?test=latestnews
    It would be nice one day just to hear the acknowledgment of the content of the e-mails. (In a reality based manner.)

    Wow – it sounds like it never occurred to him it might have been an inside job. Another scientist whose reputation is harmed by Climategate?

  22. “they named a shuttle enterprise” True, but a name long revered in U.S. maritime history, James Kirk not withstanding. Granted, NASA picked the shuttle names by popular vote, and Enterprise got the most. It also never flew, was dropped a few times from a 747. (that had to be exciting, at least for the 747 crew).
    Microsats have been a Pop-Sci staple for years, “the way of the future”. But, how do they communicate with the ground? Antenna theory hasn’t changed. You still need certain size for a given frequency. And things like gyros or thrusters to maintain alignment. Paper mock-ups are nice, I’ll wait for a working version.
    All goes to show that we don’t know a lot of things. About many things. The science is never settled. Makes life interesting.

  23. Oh great, now the alarmists will claim CO2 is causing lightning strikes and gamma thingamygies. We’ll be told to walk around with aluminium hats on.
    On a serious note, I don’t like this spies stole emails thing. It’s a good way for the govt. to shut up shop on it. National security and all that.

  24. “”TFN Johnson (06:20:40) :
    But more seriously – why is it safe to sail boats with aluminium masts in thunderstorms, but not play golf with metal shafted clubs?
    How often do lightning conductors get struck? There seems to be a role for tall metal objects to seep away charge
    “”
    Usually, sailboats have metal plates in the water that act as a ground and a sacrificial electrode to prevent massive corrosion of other metal parts. This is grounded to the mast as I recall making the mast and metal rigging more of a faraday safety cage than potentially instant death like a metal golf club with you acting to complete the circuit. Actually though, it’s not that sure a result but it certainly can be fatal.


  25. cba (05:21:25) :
    It also makes me wonder just how much effect cosmic ray bursts have in the triggering (and maybe path determination) also.

    Look to the physical and electrical processes that establish the ‘leader’ strokes (much studied for decades now) involving such known processes as corona (not the beer!) discharge (for instance) for part of this answer; be careful not ascribe too much to newly-found anomalies …
    .
    .


  26. cba (09:25:42) :
    of a faraday safety cage

    The protection aspect has less to do with ‘Faraday’ (electrostatic fields) than it does with both a dynamic electric and magnetic fields and ‘propagation of RF energy (a pulse even) in a waveguide beyond cutoff’; INSIDE an enclosure at << 1/4 Lamda per dimension their is a reluctance (attenuation) in allowing the 'wave' to propagate – this is the active effect to the 'cage' not Faraday protection or effect.
    When 'Faraday' mentioned as an agent in a situation usually it is 'arm waving'.
    .
    .


  27. G. Varros (07:02:03) :
    Going back a few years, I do remember reading that someone was studying whether cosmic rays possibly lay down ion channels which allows lightning to do its thing

    Right; this accounts for the lightning at all manner of angles (not!), as seen here:
    http://www.stormtrack.org
    Again, be careful not to attribute too much newly discovered phenomenona when much is already known (to only researchers, perhaps) about other physical and electrical causes.
    .
    .

  28. OT – the recent re-focusing of attention from the content of the emails and data release to the manner of thier escaping the confines … is heating up.
    Spy vs Spy is interesting:
    The Agendist take is that the oil-producing nations have a vested interest in global consumption of fossil fuels.
    The producing nations may have motive to counter what they see as propaganda to take their market away from them.

  29. The 22 years of research on atmospheric astrophysics since then have convinced me that not only this solar prominence, but also the universe is, so to speak, all-electric, and that electric fields and their breakdown in electrical discharges account for the observed phenomena and accelerate the process of universal evolution from universe to galaxies, from galaxies to stars, from stars to planets and, possibly, from large planets to satellites. In short, atmospheric astrophysics is merely an extension of atmospheric electricity.
    C. E. R. Bruce
    http://www.catastrophism.com/texts/bruce/atmos.htm


  30. Retired Engineer (09:18:47) :
    Microsats have been a Pop-Sci staple for years, “the way of the future”. But, how do they communicate with the ground? Antenna theory hasn’t changed. You still need certain size for a given frequency.

    What length is a 1/2 Lamda dipole for 2.4 GHz? (A little under 2.5 inches)
    (For GAIN you then add an appropriate reflector behind it; gain proportional to size as needed)
    Uplink/down link frequencies are usually measured in the GHz range for these applications, not MHz.
    .
    .

  31. This has not been noticed by people studying Venus?
    Yes, sailboats often have metal under the hull, usually to provide a ground for the radio. However, most masts are stepped on the deck, far from the water, so the shroud lines (fastened to the gunnel) are closer to the water and the hull above the water line is usually wet from rain. That would seem a much easier path to the water. This is more a question for someone who makes sailboats.

  32. At what distance could these TGFs be detected? Could spaceborne detectors use the presence of these bursts to locate a planet around a distant star? These would surely be too weak and intermittent for that purpose?
    Just wonderin’.
    Ben

  33. It’s probably just discharge from all the micro-black holes generated by the Large Hadron Collider.
    Nothing to worry about.

  34. richard (10:29:40) :
    It’s probably just discharge from all the micro-black holes generated by the Large Hadron Collider

    That Large Haldron Collider Phantom Producer does not produce any black holes but big financial holes, which will surely be sold afterwards as “hedge funds”.

  35. James Sexton (07:37:34) :
    “Way OT, but I had a good laugh over it. It seems it is time for 007 to come out of retirement!!! http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/02/01/scientist-climate-e-mails-possibly-stolen-spies/?test=latestnews
    It would be nice one day just to hear the acknowledgment of the content of the e-mails. (In a reality based manner.)”
    Also in The Independent and the Daily Telegraph. No comments allowed for these articles. Presented as news, despite being confessed speculation.
    There’s a sort of reinforcing article in the DT, also in the news section, slyly associating Climategate with some notorious hacks.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/7127739/Climategate-five-notorious-hacks.html
    A desperate attempt at damage limitation. The cat’s out of the bag and who let it out is
    irrelevant.

  36. I worked in a luxury GRP yacht builders for a few years. The aluminium masts sat on a base just below the saloon floor. The cast lead Keel was several feet lower down, and if a lightning strike tried to jump this gap it would do serious damage. Most of the boats we made had additional heavy gauge cable to bond the rigging and mast to the keel.

  37. jmrSudbury (08:02:51) :
    Carbon-based life form (07:38:11) , possibly there is lightening on Jupiter or some moons that have atmospheres, but wouldn’t it be easier to see the effect on Mars and Venus which are closer to us? — John M Reynolds
    My reply; there has long been satellite photos of Jupiter atmospheric lightning,
    (“Images taken of Jupiter’s day and night sides by Cassini on Jan. 1, 2001 show that storms visible on the day side are the sources of visible lightning when .”)
    search of Google “Jupiter lightning” gives lots of nice stories and images, Saturn as well. Most seems to be forming as the surface rolls over into the twilight / Night side.

  38. The sailing question is an interesting one. I am a dinghy sailor and the boat, a wooden GP14, has no metal ground for any lightning striking the mast. Even the shroud plates are mounted internally so even if the boat is heeling it will not make any difference. Any lightning hitting our boat will just have to ground through the bottom veneer – unless it decides to flow through any water in the boat and down the drains into the self-bailers (which are metal).
    As the crew, if it is none too windy I will probably be crouched in the boat (and wet boots in the likely path of least resistance), or if it is windy I will be hiking out and probably with legs jammed up against the shroud to trim the boat, so bound to get a bit of a tingle one way or the other.
    I often wonder why we go out racing in thunderstorms. There you are, soaking wet, in a great big open space underneath a big metal pole. Might as well paint Hit Me on the sails.

  39. That’s great news!
    Folks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have taken the first step in the scientific method:
    Admitting* that they do not know everything!
    Congratulations!,
    * “before the 1990s nobody knew they even existed. And yet they’re the most potent natural particle accelerators on Earth.”
    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Emeritus Professor of
    Nuclear & Space Sciences
    Former NASA PI for Apollo

  40. I’m reminded of a paperback I read some 20 years ago but later lost – along with the author’s name (anyone?) – on the expanding earth hypothesis. The author saw atmospheric spots caught on satellite pictures and interpreted them as impacts of small watery comets. These would account for the water necessary to fill up the expanding earth’s oceans.

  41. They could have spoken to NOAA as:
    “NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.”
    NOAA should also have been on hand to conserve and manage the dead/dying Florida corals reported in another WUWT story.

  42. Sören (11:42:04)
    “The author saw atmospheric spots caught on satellite pictures and interpreted them as impacts of small watery comets. These would account for the water necessary to fill up the expanding earth’s oceans.”
    Sounds like Louis Frank’s mini-comets…

  43. _Jim (10:07:25) :
    Again, be careful not to attribute too much newly discovered phenomenona when much is already known (to only researchers, perhaps) about other physical and electrical causes.

    Pretty much what I was thinking too.
    It’s likely as simple as pinch instabilities along the discharge filament (lightning). Plasma pinches are well known for producing radiation across the entire EM spectrum, including gamma rays.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinch_%28plasma_physics%29

    Pinches are created in the laboratory in equipment related to nuclear fusion, such as the Z-pinch machine and high-energy physics, such as the dense plasma focus. Pinches may also become unstable, and generate radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio waves, x-rays and gamma rays, and also neutrons and synchrotron radiation. Types of pinches, that may differ in geometry and operating forces, include the Cylindrical pinch, Inverse pinch, Orthogonal pinch effect, Reversed field pinch, Sheet pinch, Screw pinch (also called stabalized z-pinch, or θ-z pinch), Theta pinch (or thetatron), Toroidal pinch, Ware pinch and Z-pinch.

    Neutron generation in lightning bolts
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v313/n6005/abs/313773a0.html

    In our experiment, we have attempted to keep the cosmic-ray neutron background at a negligible level by searching for neutrons from individual lightning strokes, for a time-interval comparable with the duration of the lightning stroke. Here we present the first experimental evidence that neutrons are generated in lightning discharges, with 107−1010 neutrons per stroke. Whether these neutrons are thermonuclear in origin, or are generated by non-thermal processes, remains to be determined.

    We know that gamma rays and neutrons can be created in high energy plasma pinches and that these have also been detected in lightning, which as an electric arc is a long cylindrical column of plasma, with all manner of kinks and twists. The TGF’s also seem to occur more preferentially along an equatorial band, which would indicate a denser population of free charge carriers, ions and electrons, available to the ionosphere and injected into the charged lower atomosphere, likely due to the Earth’s equaotrial ring current and/or radiation belts. More bang for the buck, so to speak.
    Anyways, I think it’s pretty straightforward like that.
    peace,
    Tim

  44. JonesII (06:43:54) :

    BTW, the other day, someone said that any progress in science must be the exclusive outcome of a long mathematical elaboration even involving one´s elbow wear solving a lot of differential equations.

    You are misquoting me. My meaning was that unless one has the tools of mathematics at one’s finger tips, one cannot do modern day physics. Pontification no longer works. And the tools of mathematics are differential equations and functional integrals.
    .Such a person forgot that computers compute and solve mathematical problems using simple arithmetics..and that mathematical computations should be done AFTER not before experiments, and if complicated or if needing rounding, adjusting or massaging, something is wrong
    Computers are as good as their programmers, otherwise one gets GIGO. And it is the AGW cabal that has been using computers par excellence to massage and round and adjust reality.
    Mathematical computations from theories predict experimental results. If the results do not fit, the theory is either scrapped or changed.
    Data is gathered, as with the above satellite experiment, and the fitting theory will be proposed to explain the data. It will not be a theory based on a verbal composition, but one mathematically based on the known physics.

  45. Wade, I don’t think there’s enough room in there for hauling cattle. . .
    GV, you may have had a gamma-ray impact on your eye. Astronauts experience that fairly often, but if you were looking at a flash. . .
    Jupiter and Saturn, and possibly Uranus and Neptune have lightening, as well as do Venus and Mars. Whether or not Triton and Titan have lightening, I do not know.

  46. Dr. Anthony Peratt of Los Alamos National Laboratory has writtten of gamma ray production in the plasma physics laboratory, Physics of the Plasma Universe pp 34,35:
    Dr. Peratt’s biography:
    http://www.ieee.org/organizations/pubs/newsletters/npss/0306/peratt.html
    “Gamma Ray and X ray.”
    “Most emissions at these wavelengths [infrared to gamma] is likely to be produced by electrons with energies in excess of 100 eV. We know that processes in magnetized plasmas, especially concerning electric fields aligned by magnetic fields, accelerate auroral electrons to keV energies. Similar plasma processes in solar flares produce energies of 1-10 GeV. Under cosmic conditions, relativistic double layers (Chapter 5) may generate even higher energies in magnetized cosmic plasmas.”
    “Therefore we can assume with some confidence that the X rays and gamma rays we observe derive mainly from magnetized plasmas with energies in excess of 100 eV. Therefore, we call the picture we get from these wavelengths the high-energy plasma universe, or simply the plasma universe.”
    “The energy densities of radiation in the gamma ray and X ray bands are approximately 10^(-18) J per cubic meter and 10^(-16) J per cubic meter respectively, and may arise from the total contribution of discrete sources (Section 6.7.5).”
    Possibly the ionosphere acts as one plate in a “leaky” capacitor and the surface of the Earth acts as the other plate and the atmosphere acts as an “insulating” medium in between.
    The medium’s insulating qualities breakdown and an electric discharge is released in the electric field between the two plates of the “capacitor” and lightning is the result.
    It has been observed & measured that on the earth’s surface, the electric field can be as strong as 100 to 300 Volts/meter.
    From the instant post:
    “In the skies above a thunderstorm, powerful electric fields generated by the storm stretch upward for many miles into the upper atmosphere. These electric fields accelerate free electrons, whisking them to speeds approaching the speed of light. When these ultra-high speed electrons collide with molecules in the air, the collisions release high-energy gamma rays as well as more electrons, setting up a cascade of collisions and perhaps more TGFs”
    With all due respect to the author, it maybe that there is a charge differential between the ionosphere and the Earth’s surface that generates the electric field. Electric fields have been observed & measured at the Earth’s surface on a clear day.

  47. “What length is a 1/2 Lamda dipole for 2.4 GHz? (A little under 2.5 inches)”
    Each half (1/4 wave) of the dipole, perhaps. A half wave is about 4.9 inches.
    Ain’t gonna do it with one dipole from space. Adding a reflector might give you 3db. Most satellites use dishes, and those generally below 2.4 Ghz (which has quite a few terrestrial users). A dinky satellite will have dinky solar panels, which will produce dinky amounts of electricity. Can’t power much of a transmitter.
    The point was micro-sats have been talked about for years. Faster, cheaper, all that. But, like flying cars and supersonic personal airplanes, far more is said than done. I’d like to see a real study, with real satellites. As we learned from a few of the “faster and cheaper” missions to Mars (which failed) smaller is not always better.

  48. AndrewWH (11:14:11) : Said “I often wonder why we go out racing in thunderstorms.”
    The same risks apply to aircraft – Glider pilots often seek out thunderstorms for the considerable up-draughts. However a strike on an all composite glider will usually blow it apart – that’s why they wear parachutes! Metal skins conduct the charge, and don’t usually suffer serious damage. Boeing have spent lots of time & money incorporating conductive materials in the new Dreamliner to get it certified.

  49. They’ve been launching real, functional micro/nano-sats for several years.
    http://www.surrey.ac.uk/news/releases/10-0100sstl.html
    http://www.prlog.org/10351303-isro-launches-nano-satellites-from-sriharikota.html
    btw, those little mars rovers, spirit and opportunity, are still operational after far exceeding their expected lifetimes. The couple of “faster/cheaper” failures really had nothing to do with the faster/cheaper design concept. Mistakes happen regardless of the design paradigm.
    peace,
    Tim

  50. They THINK they know how the charge is generated.
    Got the cart before the horse. Kinda like the CO2 driver!!
    Looking at the GRB as the initiator is pretty dumb, but, what do you expect of people who believe in Blackholes, Evolution, and AGW!!
    Poor education WILL affect later performance!
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  51. Having a heavy cable from mast to metal or keel is what I was referring. Of course lightning does really like turning corners much.
    Believe it or not, normal currents one experiences in their house have the electric wave traveling close to the speed of light in a vacuum but the actual motion of the electrons may be 0.5mm / second.
    A typical lightning strike may have a rise time of 10 or 20 microsecnds and a tail of 100 microseconds (and typically a significant number of repeats) so it it doesn’t have tremendous amount of really high frequency energy being that 10 microseconds is around 100khz and the sizing of a mast for a 30-40ft sailboat is going to be more like 1/4 wave in the low mhz, well over 2mhz and under 14mhz. Consequently, It’s going to go the path of least resistance unless that makes too significant an angle.
    Considering that it was stated that potential differences reached 20 million volts, accelerating particles by that much should be more than enough to generate electron positiron pairs which can then combine and generate half mev gamma rays.
    One needs to distinguish between gamma rays and cosmic rays. cosmic rays are not rays but high energy particles, typically protons. What caused the flashes inside the astronauts eyeballs were actually iron nuclei cosmic rays-a small subset. Cosmic rays are occaisionally seen to reach horrifically high energies creating bursts of particles covering square kms with showers of secondary particles. These are thought to be originating not nearly so far away as the other side of the universe because they will lose energy in collisions with the microwave background radiation. And of course, none of this has anything to do with gamma ray bursts, grb s where huge amounts of energy or released in the gamma ray spectrum – evidently due to supernovae blowing out high speed particles from the dying star’s poles that encounter gas clouds blown out earlier and at slower velocities.
    cosmic rays, especially lower energy ones can come from the Sun and there’s tons of these. They’re what causes the old geiger counter to ‘click’ randomly but frequently – even when not around radioactive materials – and that is something less than a square inch of sensor. Something the size of a human body is being hit continually by the secondary particles at rates far to fast for a human to actually distinguish one event from another or to count them (of course assuming there was something detecting them that flashed or clicked so a person could try to count the events).

  52. The video associated with this exposition confuses Planck’s 1900 quantum theory of electromagnetic radiation per “black box” spectra, where energy E = hv (h is Planck’s Constant of Proportionality, v –Greek “nu”– represents photon frequency), with Einstein’s 1905 Special Theory of Relativity where E = mc^2 [physical mass is proportional to Energy converted to an equation by means of a universal constant c, the “speed of light”]. The “Annals of Physics” article that won Einstein the Nobel Prize for 1922 explicated Planck in terms of quantized photons, not atoms (the topic of his second article, dealing with molecules’ random Brownian Motion) which are not germane to Special or General Relativity (1916).
    Any popular presentation so utterly ignorant of Planck has no awareness of classical Newtonian as distinct from quantum physics. No-one neglecting Planck in toto while egregiously misrepresenting Einstein has any business producing science documentaries.

  53. G. Varros (12:06:00) :
    “Sounds like Louis Frank’s mini-comets…”
    Indeed, clearly it was – I remember now, thanks! 🙂

  54. A longstanding mystery about lightning is how a strike gets started. Scientists know that the turbulence inside a thundercloud separates electric charge, building up enormous voltages. But the voltage needed to ionize air and generate a spark is about 10 times greater than the voltage typically found inside storm clouds.
    “We know how the clouds charge up,” Rowland says, “we just don’t know how they discharge. That is the mystery.”
    TGFs could provide that spark. By generating a quick burst of electron flow, TGFs might help lightning strikes get started, Rowland suggests. “Perhaps this phenomenon is why we have lightning,” he says.

    (emph added)
    This logic seems a bit quirky to me. Perhaps they don’t know how the charge accumulation takes place in the clouds at all.
    Well if they are just looking for a patch on their current lightning theory, then a million dollars is all they deserve to get!

  55. anna v (12:31:58)
    but one mathematically based on the known physics
    You just said it. And I would add, proved and tested in the lab, if it is not, it is like any “New Age” phantasy, perhaps more elaborated and more difficult to unravel.

  56. The artist’s rendering of the gamma-ray interaction is incorrect.
    As a result of the cascade of interactions that follow the initial gamma-ray interaction in the upper atmosphere (principally in the ionosphere), the location of the source of the gamma rays cannot be specified exactly from a terrestrial observation- the location in the sky of the source can only be (somewhat) inferred
    Any increase in resolution of the location of gamma-ray sources would be of value

  57. Zeke the Sneak (07:38:21) :…funny. Some people should wear a big magnet on their heads to promote reconnection with reality☺

  58. Zeke the Sneak (07:38:21) wrote: “Or maybe the electrons are accelerated to near light speeds in the usual way: by magnetic reconnection! Above the clouds!”
    http://www.spacedaily.com/news/stellar-02d.html
    Dr. Leif Svalgaard (19:42:08), January 27, 2010: “This is where reconnection takes place [no field line needs to be ‘cut’ as there is no field there]”
    Dr. Svalgaard’s quoted description and the SpaceDaily.com article contradict each other.
    From the ScienceDaily.com article: “Magnetic reconnection should occur wherever magnetic fields clash. As the fields try to bend around one another, the field lines break and recombine…”
    According to Dr. Svalgaard supposed “magnetic reconnection” does not involve magnetic field lines being “cut” or “break” as the SpaceDaily.com article puts it.
    Actually, supposed “magnetic reconnection” is an Electric Double Layer where a flow of plasma, charged particles, streams perpendicularly into a magnetic field.
    There are severe theoretical difficulties with the “magnetic reconnection” hypothesis and in situ satellite probe observations & measurement of so-called “magnetic reconnection” events have revealed physical processes and relationships consistent with Electric Double Layer processes such as electric fields, acceleration in opposite directions of free electrons & ions, and potentially even parallel electric fields, along with rows of electrons & ions across from each other causing the electric field in between:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_layer_(plasma)
    More germane to this post is that no scientist researching these high altitude Gamma Ray emissions has suggested so-called “magnetic reconnection” has anything to do with it, maybe you were just being sarcastic 🙂

  59. It’s true, no one said anything about magnetic reconnection being responsible for these relativistic electrons; the em fields above the clouds are said to be the particle accelerators in this case. But I thought it would be fun to add a bit of cosmological perspective on how NASA explains this intriguing and fundamental problem:

    [A] process called magnetic reconnection accelerates electrons to near the speed of light in the Earth’s magnetosphere and perhaps throughout the universe where magnetic fields entangle. Magnetic fields colliding in interstellar space could just as easily rev particles to nearly the speed of light, as could reconnection in accretion disks around black holes.

    But this is for you and JonesII:

    The idea of magnetic reconnection was originally put forth in 1946 to explain solar flares and the high-energy particles that stream from them.
    Despite its presumed importance wherever magnetic fields occur, there has been no direct evidence that regions of magnetic reconnection generate the very energetic particles traveling at near light speed…
    For about 20 minutes on April Fools’ Day, however, Wind recorded the first data ever from a region of magnetic connection.

    You all be sure to mark that day on the calender, and celebrate this and many more of NASA’s amazing discoveries! 🙂

  60. Yes, regarding so-called “magnetic reconnection” (really Electric Double Layers), April Fool’s day is about right 🙂
    It’s strange why “modern” astronomy clings to so many ideas from the pre-space age, even after in situ satellite probes’ observations & measurements contradict these ideas.
    Humor (irony) is a good way to go 🙂

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