Using cosmic rays to reveal Earth's thunderstorm processes

This shows a particle shower initiated by a cosmic ray reaches LOFAR through a thundercloud. Credit: Radboud University
This shows a particle shower initiated by a cosmic ray reaches LOFAR through a thundercloud.
Credit: Radboud University

From the University of Groningen:

Exploding stars help to understand thunderclouds on Earth

How is lightning initiated in thunderclouds? This is difficult to answer – how do you measure electric fields inside large, dangerously charged clouds? It was discovered, more or less by coincidence, that cosmic rays provide suitable probes to measure electric fields within thunderclouds. This surprising finding is published in Physical Review Letters on April 24th. The measurements were performed with the LOFAR radio telescope located in the Netherlands.

‘We used to throw away LOFAR measurements taken during thunderstorms. They were too messy.’ says astronomer Pim Schellart. ‘Well, we didn’t actually throw them away of course, we just didn’t analyze them.’ Schellart, who completed his PhD in March this year at Radboud University in Nijmegen and is supervised by Prof. Heino Falcke, is interested in cosmic rays. These high-energy particles, originating from exploding stars and other astrophysical sources, continuously bombard Earth from space.

High in the atmosphere these particles strike atmospheric molecules and create ‘showers’ of elementary particles. These showers can also be measured from the radio emission that is generated when their constituent particles are deflected by the magnetic field of the Earth. The radio emission also gives information about the original particles. These measurements are routinely conducted with LOFAR at ASTRON in Dwingeloo, but not during thunderstorms.


That changed when the data were examined in a collaborative effort with astrophysicist Gia Trinh, Prof. Olaf Scholten from the University of Groningen and lightning expert Ute Ebert from the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam.

‘We modeled how the electric field in thunderstorms can explain the different measurements. This worked very well. How the radio emission changes gives us a lot of information about the electric fields in thunderstorms. We could even determine the strength of the electric field at a certain height in the cloud.’ says Schellart.

This field can be as strong as 50 kV/m. This translates into a voltage of hundreds of millions of volts over a distance of multiple kilometers: a thundercloud contains enormous amounts of energy.

Dangerous charge

Lightning is a highly unpredictable natural phenomenon that inflicts damage to infrastructure and claims victims around the world. This new method to measure electric fields in thunderclouds will contribute to a better understanding and ultimately better predictions of lightning activity. Current measurement methods from planes, balloons or little rockets are dangerous and too localized. Most importantly the presence of the measurement equipment influences the measurements. Cosmic rays probe the thunderclouds from top to bottom. Moving at almost the speed of light they provide a near instantaneous ‘picture’ of the electric fields in the cloud. Moreover, they are created by nature and are freely available.

‘This research is an exemplary form of interdisciplinary collaboration between astronomers, particle physicists and geophysicists’, says Heino Falcke. ‘We hope to develop the model further to ultimately answer the question: how is lightning initiated within thunderclouds?’


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Tom in Florida
April 22, 2015 6:16 am

Lightning is initiated as soon as a golfer gets to the point on the course that is farthest from the clubhouse.

george e. smith
Reply to  Tom in Florida
April 22, 2015 6:56 pm

Well this stuff is old hat. When I was at UofA doing Physics, one of the Department’s Research fields (pun) was measuring the electric fields, in and around thunderstorms.
The Instigator of this research program was Professor Karl Kreielsheimer; who sounded exactly like that does. He was head of the Radio-Physics Department; one of my Physics Majors.
So we had students building electronic sensing equipments (vacuum tubes / valves / whatever) which could be launched aloft, on standard “weather balloons, the kind that the Meteorologists launched every day to read stuff aloft for weather predictions.
Now New Zealand only has 91 elements. We don’t have Helium down there,so our “weather balloons, and thunderstorm electric field sensing balloons use a plentiful resource called Hydrogen for blowing up balloons; literally.
So when a thunderstorm was brewing, Prof KK rounded up his victims; excuse me; that’s assistants, and we all traipsed off down to a local pier jutting out into the Waitemata Harbour, so it was clear of trees, and also adjacent to a really good local ground connection, where we laid out the ersatz weather balloons, with the new goodie boxes attached, including a nice long wire antenna dragging from the thing to sense the vertical field strength, and then we hooked up the cylinder of compressed Hydrogen to blow up the balloon so it could be launched into the oncoming anvil cloud.
We weren’t too worried about losing the goodies somewhere over Australia, because these balloons were always tethered so as to not go AWOL.
So we always had a good electrical connection to the balloon via the Dacron braided fishing line we used to tether the balloon. The main advantage of braided Dacron is that being braided, it can soak up water , which eliminates a good deal of its pesky insulation qualities.
I don’t remember anybody ever getting a free haircut from these outings, but it was pretty exciting while we were trying to get the balloon up there.
Yes, I know quite a lot about the electric fields under thunderstorm clouds. I can even mimic the sizzling sounds you get once it starts raining and the Dacron tether gets damp.

george e. smith
Reply to  george e. smith
April 22, 2015 7:23 pm

Also 50kV/m is NOT a very high electric field in the general scheme of things. You should look at what some of the accelerating fields in particle accelerators are.
50 kV/m will just keep people from playing with stuff they shouldn’t.
I believe with SF6 instead of air you can withstand 160kV across a 5 mm gap between flat disk electrodes.
So 50kV/m is just hohum.

Jon Jewett
Reply to  george e. smith
April 24, 2015 5:55 pm


April 22, 2015 6:19 am

“‘We hope to develop the model further to ultimately answer the question: how is lightning initiated within thunderclouds?’”
By stripping electrons from the molecules of H2O and CO2,thereby building up a negative charge and getting rid of it. And BTW, most lightning goes from the earth to the sky. It is just to fast for us to see. We see the return path in the flash. Gawd. Don’t they teach real science in schools anymore?

Reply to  Justthinkin
April 22, 2015 7:05 am

High speed photography has revealed the process of a lightning strike to be incredibly complicated.
Additionally, there are reverse polarity lightning strikes and all sorts of other strange things.
So depending on when you went to school and who you studied with, one may have a very incomplete picture of what is known about the state of lightning science.
At present very little is known about the plasma-like phenomena that emerge from the tops of thunderclouds, sprites, and jets, and possibly other forms of lightning related events.
Although the basic process is known to be related to static charges building up due to ice crystals rubbing past one another, much remains unknown. Your attitude seems a little bit out of place.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 7:23 am

Sorry menicholas…..did not mean to sound out of place….my bad. Lightning is electricity, of which the only thing we know for sure is it flows from negative to positive. If you don’t build up enough negative charge, nothing will happen. Cloud to cloud (sheet lightning) is great to watch, but why it happens, I think it may be the negative to positive between clouds. How that happens, I have no idea. Mother Nature is more weird than we can imagine.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 9:29 am

“of which the only thing we know for sure is it flows from negative to positive.”
Unless you are in a wired electrical circuit, then it’s positive to negative (thank you Benjamin Franklin).

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 11:23 am

Charge (potential) moves from positive to negative. Electrons drift from negative to positive (current). Charge (potential information) moves close to the speed of light depending on the medium. The electrons drift much slower in a response to the applied potential.
This is a fairy tale explanation. Read a serious physics book for a through explanation regarding electricity in different situations: Sommerfeld, Bloch, Hertz, Maxwell, etc.

Steve C
Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 11:45 am

Re the reverse polarity strikes, it seems apropos to mention the stunning photo online of the very close shave experienced by Australian photographer Kane Quinnell a few years ago. At the time, he was “hoping to get a few shots of lightning in the clouds a few kilometers away”. He got a shot he’ll never forget.

george e. smith
Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 7:06 pm

Actually justthinkin, electric current flow direction is defined as the direction of flow of electric charge. so by definition it flows from Positive to Negative.
But since some early idiot defined electrons as having a negative charge (moroon) then the direction of “electron flow” is from negative to positive.
It’s like; “Why does the universe have more matter than anti-matter .” ??
Well what sort of idiot would call the surviving species “Anti-matter.”
Yes I know that the Navy says current goes from negative to positive, but that is a relic of vacuum tubes, where electrons “boil” off a hot cathode, and get attracted over to the positive anode.
So the electron mass flows from negative to positive (who cares) but the charge goes from positive to negative (from the plate to the cathode).

george e. smith
Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:11 pm

Sorry otsar, but charge is not potential, and the electron mass and charge are basically inseparable, so they stay together, and move together but the direction of “Current flow” is the direction that positive charge flows.
Electrons (-charge or mass,) may move at close to the speed of light in the Stanford Linear Accelerator; but in most situations they are rather tardy about going anywhere.
In metals for example electrons don’t move at anywhere near the velocity of light. That is why everyone is holding their breath and waiting for the advent of Optical digital circuitry where signals do propagate with the speed of light, or at least the speed of EM waves in whatever medium is used.
In ordinary coaxial cable like RG8 or other, the wave velocity is only about 2/3rd of (c), because of the dielectric constant of the plastic insulation between the inner and outer conductors. This increases the (C) per unit length, but doesn’t change the (L) per unit length , and since the velocity varies inversely as the square root of LC, it is less than c inside a plastic insulated coax cable, but still close to c in air filled cables (rigid)
c is about one foot per ns and in RG8 or similar v is about 20 cm /ns.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 10:30 pm

And why does a hole have more mass than an electron?

george e. smith
Reply to  menicholas
April 23, 2015 11:26 am

April 22, 2015 at 10:30 pm
And why does a hole have more mass than an electron?……””””
Well Des, ya got me there.
First, I’ll take your word for that (but check it out).
Also I’ll presume that you DO mean a hole, and NOT a Positron.
Off hand I can’t swear that electrons and positrons have identical rest masses, but I suspect that is true.
Holes, in the semiconductor sense are not exactly real things; just an available site attached to a lattice atom, where an electron could take up residence, at which time the hole would vanish (or at least move).
Now I’m fairly sure that in common semiconductors such as Si, Ge, GaAs, etc, it is true that hole mobilities and electron mobilities are generally not the same, and can be quite different.
Electron (and hole) mobilities express the rate at which electrons or holes can propagate in the crystal, and that is way slower than (c) or c / n , the EM wave velocity in the medium. Which is exactly why Optical ICs would be a bloody side faster.
Given that a hole has the same but opposite electric charge associated with it, then the force on that charge in an applied electric field, ought to have the same magnitude for both electrons and holes; so why the hey would not they both move at the same rate.
The difference in mobility can be expressed as an equivalent mass difference between hole and electron, to explain the lower acceleration and drift velocity (mobility). And the hole equivalent mass would be higher since they have lower mobilities than electrons.
You are asking me to recall stuff from my misspent youth.
I actually learned all about this from Andy Grove himself, when I worked at Fairchild Semiconductor in the late 1960s.
I have Andy’s text book, and also a handbook on silicon semi-conductor technology, so If I get some time, I can try to find some explanation.
If you are an electron in say Silicon, to have a model, then you could be attached to your atom and be enjoying the valence band. But once you leave home and become a free electron in the crystal, you can wander around the crystal in the conduction band, without necessarily paying attention to the availability of bomb craters to jump into.
Metals of course contain oodles of free electrons, which aren’t attached to anything, so a semiconductor will have some of those too.
But a hole is different (not being real).
You don’t have free holes in a semiconductor. They are always located and attached to an actual real live atom. They vanish from this site, and mysteriously appear at another atom site, but they aren’t ever anywhere in between like electrons are.
Now I’m not a quantum mechanic, so I only view these things through the classical physics glasses, so the above explanation maybe a bit of bush carpentry, but I think it is a reasonable facsimile of reality.
But if I goofed and got this all rong, then please do tell us all, where the guffaws are.

Steve P
Reply to  Justthinkin
April 22, 2015 7:31 am

Most lightning is either intra-cloud (IC) or cloud-to-cloud (CC), as opposed to cloud-to-ground (CG).

Because human beings are terrestrial and most of their possessions are on the Earth, where lightning can damage or destroy them, CG lightning is the most studied and best understood of the three types, even though IC and CC are more common types of lightning. Lightning’s relative unpredictability limits a complete explanation of how or why it occurs, even after hundreds of years of scientific investigation.
In a process not well understood, a channel of ionized air, called a “leader”, is initiated from a charged region in the thundercloud…

(my bold)

April 22, 2015 6:19 am

Thanks, Anthony. It’s about time we learned more about lightning in thunderclouds than the Benjamin Franklin key-kite experiment. After all, thunderstorms are a major negative feedback term in the Earth’s thermal balance equation, to the point of being ignored, because “they are too messy”. Without proper accounting for thunderstorms and clouds in general, all models will err on the warm side.

Reply to  lenbilen
April 22, 2015 11:48 am

I recall, but can’t find right off, that Willis did a good piece on this here some time back about the course of a day in the tropics, increasing humidity and heat with sun on water, building to storms, thermal balance, then drier . . .

April 22, 2015 6:20 am

This is how science advances it’s knowledge. Well done.

Reply to  Bobby Davis
April 22, 2015 9:40 am

True, but to advance knowledge, scientists first have to know what they don’t know. Too many of today’s generation of “scientists” only think they know things they don’t know. Global Warming science is riddled with people whose minds are shut as tight as any vacuum chamber. Are they venal or insane? Theoretically, they can’t be stupid or ignorant. Well, yes there are exceptions…

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
April 22, 2015 2:43 pm

Being educated does NOT mean you are smart. Being undereducated does Not mean you are stupid. Anyone can read and memorize a book. A smart person knows what to do with that knowledge. And VERY smart person accomplishes the same thing without formal education. Some of the most stupid people I know are highly educated. Some of the smartest folks I know have little education. Being “Book Learned” means little if that is all you have.
So YES, those Climate Scientists Can indeed be stupid AND ignorant. Those traits are NOT mutually exclusive.

April 22, 2015 6:25 am

Not to mention possibility that the ‘particle shower initiated by a cosmic ray’ may also initiate more familiar molecular shower, better known as rain.

Reply to  vukcevic
April 22, 2015 6:51 am

From the same principle as the Wilson Cloud Chamber, where radioactive particles create tiny droplets in a cold, water vapour saturated environment? (If memories of my 42 years ago A Level physics are correct)

Gentle Tramp
Reply to  vukcevic
April 22, 2015 8:53 am

And not to mention the possibility that lightings itself are maybe induced by CR. See e.g. here:
If this hypothesis should be true, it will be more difficult to ridicule a possible relevance of the Svensmark effect any further…

Reply to  vukcevic
April 22, 2015 2:36 pm

“Not to mention possibility that the ‘particle shower initiated by a cosmic ray’ may also initiate more familiar molecular shower, better known as rain.”
I have noted that at the instant of a lightning strike, rain sometimes increases dramatically in intensity, simultaneously.
The stock explanation for this is that the lightning means that the center of the rain cell is above you, and so it is not unexpected that the rain will increase in intensity.
But what I am talking about is something else, as though the drops of rain are being held back somewhat by the static charges all about, and the lightning dispels this charge in a given area for a time, allowing the drops that have been held back to fall a little harder or faster.
No proof, but I observe things very closely and pay detailed attention.
It is a lot of voltage, and the drops may each have a tiny charge, so…

Reply to  Menicholas
April 22, 2015 2:48 pm

I observe weather for a living. I have not seen that. If fact I often notice it only on TV.
My observing experience (28 years) tells me the two are not related. Snow in the cloud would appear to be more relevant than rain or hail. Studies have shown that lighting will not develop until temps reach -10 a -20c (I cannot recall the high temp side) which is far too cold for rain.

Reply to  Menicholas
April 22, 2015 10:40 pm

Where do you observe

April 22, 2015 6:31 am

Wait a minute!!!
I have been struck by lightning three times, directly, not nearby. To this day, I can tell 12 hours before a thunderstorm, if lightning is going to occur.
This is because the elements that create the lightning bolt exist in the environment before the storm comes. It literally increases in intensity before the bolt is possible.
This is also why one bolt that hit me came from 10 miles away and before it hit, I said to my husband, ‘I can feel the energy, a lightning bolt is going to hit me again.’ He told me this was impossible and the bam! We were hit.
Indoors, no less.
Animals can feel the accumulation of energy for a lightning bolt before a rumble of thunder. Dogs and cats can feel it. Cats become more skittish with petting because it increases the electricity on their fur. At Kitt Peak, the astronomers would joke about asking me about afternoon storms because I could predict when they would hit even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

Reply to  emsnews
April 22, 2015 6:44 am

You walk around with a huge negative charge?
I assume you have difficulty with your hair on those days too. Stay dry and stay inside on potential storm days; make it tough on the bolts to reach you.

F. Ross
Reply to  ATheoK
April 22, 2015 12:42 pm

…and wear clothing that is made like a Farady cage!

Reply to  ATheoK
April 22, 2015 2:40 pm

The Faraday line of Wire Wear!
Fits right in with the whole copper infused sports wear and accessories thing, too.
Call the patent lawyers!

Reply to  ATheoK
April 22, 2015 3:14 pm

Or the Tesla line of Wire Wear being tested:

Reply to  ATheoK
April 23, 2015 9:19 am

So in this case TGIF means Thank God It’s Faraday?

Reply to  ATheoK
April 24, 2015 8:16 am

In Canadian, Texas, many years ago, a woman was killed by lighting when no cloud was in the sky as she was getting our of a car. Her husband, also getting out, was untouched.

Reply to  emsnews
April 22, 2015 7:19 am

Very interesting, but I’m not sure if you’re being serious.
I have been very near to lightning strikes on two separate occasions (I mean so close my hair stood on end I’ve been in the vicinity of lightning thousands of times course).
The first was when I was a teenager, sitting in my bedroom in Center City Philadelphia. I heard a sound that was like the tinkling of breaking glass, very slow, and then a giant crash.
I only found out later that lightning had hit the cross on the apse end of the church about 20 feet from where I was sitting. It knocked the giant stone cross off the church, broke the stone right in half, then fell about 40 feet and crushed my neighbor’s porch steps to splinters.
The second time I was that close, was the summer before last here in Florida.we had an unusually large amount of thunderstorms that summer. Was a weekend afternoon and I was sitting in my living room on a computer. I heard what sounded like a stick of dynamite going off at my front door. It did not sound like thunder at all it literally sounded like an explosion from dynamite or something.
is it destroyed some light fixtures and thrown a potted plant against the stucco wall of thehouse. Inside the fixture, the bulb and the bulb holder was pretty much vaporized.
I only found out later than it actually hit a big palm tree and after a few days I could see dead grass radiating from the bottom of the tree. You could literally visualize how the charge had spread out from the pattern of dead grass. the tree was a huge Bismarck palm, the top was exploded. I thought it was a goner but it is since recovered.

Eustace Cranch
Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:22 am

Once I was about 40 feet from a tree that got hit. It blew a big strip out of the trunk, the sound was deafening, and I felt a strong “tick” through my body, like when you pull a static spark with your finger, except all over.
Took a while for my heart rate to come down from 180 or so.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:47 am

Yes, direct hits. Many near misses. I grew up at various observatories, my father was an astronomer.
These observatories attract lightning! When it hits, you get thrown into the air a bit and knocked down. I survive this via wearing rubber boots during thunder storms. Oh, don’t answer phones during storms. Bad danger there.
Did you know that lightning strikes cause phones to ring? It is rather eerie but then everything about lightning bolts is eerie.
The trend for trees, steel stuff like say, electric fences, etc. to become ‘charged’ long before a storm hits has not been studied much. About being ‘electrical’: am an very prone to being shocked when turning on and off lights, say, before a storm comes. It is very irritating.

Reply to  menicholas
April 23, 2015 8:24 am

I had a tree (I forget type probably maple) with diameter of about 18 inches get destroyed about 5-8 feet from me. was riding motorcycle when rain hit so I pulled over onto shoulder (gravel) of road.
since I am in maine I am almost always surrounded by trees but I did best I could to get off road and avoid trees..
lucky I still had helmet on so had some hearing protection. the discharge itself was loud and the tree blowing up was loud too.
I’ve always been able to “smell” when a storm has lightening potential so I knew this cell was going to release something. just didn’t want it to be that close to me LOL

Reply to  emsnews
April 22, 2015 7:34 am

Ouch! Glad to see you’ve survived it. Don’t be trying to beat the record now. No need to be a show off 🙂

Christopher Paino
Reply to  emsnews
April 22, 2015 11:16 am

Directly struck by lightning while indoors? Really? Possible I guess, but highly doubtful that it was a direct strike. Where you touching the plumbing or on the phone at the time?
And how did you figure out how far away it was?

Reply to  Christopher Paino
April 22, 2015 11:24 am

Lightning has been known to hit people inside. Can come through windows or so I have been told.
And it can definitely get you through the phone (although not a cordless one) or in the shower.

Reply to  Christopher Paino
April 22, 2015 5:04 pm

Through the window, once through a wall at the 86″ telescope observatory where the electrical lines entered the box there…once it hit me indoors when it jumped into the electrical system frying the wiring and jumping out of a transformer box and square into my chest.

April 22, 2015 6:32 am

Very interesting article Anthony, as well as being safer it should also be cheaper than balloons and aircraft.

April 22, 2015 6:33 am

Lightning makes connection between Ionospheric currents and tropical thunderstorms
with some more details HERE

Reply to  vukcevic
April 22, 2015 8:36 am

Yup. The ionosphere-to-cloud-to-ground system can be thought of as a leaky, self-repairing capacitor.

Reply to  Max Photon
April 22, 2015 4:44 pm

thus the sprites, completing the circuit back to the ionosphere. and what creates the ionosphere? the sun.

April 22, 2015 6:49 am

Some of the great porch sitting moments are watching the cloud to cloud lightning after the storm front has passed. Lightning jumps from cloud to clouds miles away with huge branching stems.
Now why have not the greens investigated generating electricity from vertical vortexes. Perhaps five miles of vertical vortex would out generate 20 miles of bird choppers.

Reply to  ATheoK
April 23, 2015 8:27 am

it really is a beautiful thing to watch.
from afar.

April 22, 2015 7:06 am

It goes deeper than that. Telluric currents also control where strikes occur deep within the earth.

Reply to  Alan Poirier
April 22, 2015 10:06 am

A delightful paper, Alan. Thanks for the link.

Reply to  Alan Poirier
April 22, 2015 10:31 am

Strong telluric currents are also induced by severe geomagnetic storms. It is likely that in the electrical terms any tectonic fault is also the weakest point in the earth’s global electric circuit, prematurely triggering earthquakes in a susceptible zone.
more details HERE

Reply to  vukcevic
April 22, 2015 4:52 pm

and ball lightning?

Reply to  vukcevic
April 23, 2015 7:53 pm

More work needs to be done in this field. Very interesting.

Reply to  vukcevic
April 23, 2015 7:59 pm
April 22, 2015 7:20 am

The interdisciplinary collaboration didn’t include climate scientists. Well it sort of did. The climate scientists were there washing the cars and bringing coffee to the real scientists.
Happy Misanthropic Day everyone.

Reply to  logoswrench
April 23, 2015 8:00 pm

I doubt the climate scientists can brew decent coffee. Even if coffee brewing is simple chemistry it tends to be beyond climate scientist ken.

Bruce Cobb
April 22, 2015 7:32 am

Maybe, just maybe, the reason they have such difficulty with lightning is that it may in fact not be electricity at all.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
April 22, 2015 8:47 am

Technically one can argue that what we call lightning is not really electricity, but it is created by electricity. Static electricity builds up inside of clouds and when a high enough voltage potential is reached it jumps through the air and creates plasma, ionized molecules of air.
Because I’m pretty sure electrons are invisible, what you’re actually looking at when you see lightning isn’t the electricity itself.
One thing that always makes me laugh is when people correct me when I say I heard lightning. They say ” no you heard thunder”.
But thunder is just the sound that lightning makes. If a book drops on the floor and somebody says “I heard a book fall”, nobody would say “no you didn’t hear a book fall, you heard a *(separate name for sound of a book hitting floor).

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:53 am

Lightning when seen up close (being hit) is actually rather lovely: it looks like a WEAVING. Yes, strands moving in and out of each other, it is also pink, yellow and bluish. It hurts, too.
Each time I have been hit, I got to see this close up and each time, marveled at its interior complexity.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 9:11 am

When I’m close to it, it appears to be sort of a purplish white color. But I’ve never been as close as you.
I am pretty sure that the breaking glass noise that I heard was actually the stepped leaders coming down, and the streamers coming up, from the stone.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 10:04 am

That word is librothumposity. No doubt there is a PhD thesis on it, or will be.

Jeff Mitchell
Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 10:36 am

My wife and I had a close strike and heard the broken glass sound too. We thought somebody’s window had broken in the strike. It was explained to me that the high frequency noises don’t travel far and thus we normally don’t hear them. It seems to make sense, but I don’t know if it is true.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 11:40 am

By George, that’s it!
That made me laugh.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
April 22, 2015 10:10 am

Yes, it’s not electricity. It’s Cthulhu pee.

April 22, 2015 7:36 am

Interesting… This raises the possibility of weaponizing clouds by using a satellite based ‘cosmic ray’ generator to initiate directed lightening strikes on specific targets. Of course I foresee a number of issue to be overcome including: 1) the development of a ‘cosmic ray’ generator on a satellite with limited energy sources, 2) aiming at a specific target obscured by clouds, 3) limited opportunities to engage the target due to the need to have clouds with sufficient electric potential over the target.
[It has been done before: See the Rebel’s attack on Corusecant’s shield generator by the Rogue Squadron and its associates. .mod]

Reply to  ScienceABC123
April 22, 2015 9:50 am

Maybe they have been weaponized, just not as you suspect:
Football fans in the central African state of Congo were hurling accusations of witchcraft at each other yesterday after a freak blast of lightning struck dead an entire team (11 members) on the playing field while their opponents were left completely untouched.

Reply to  BFL
April 22, 2015 10:20 am

Cthulhu strikes once more. Or maybe it was CO2. Yes, definitely CO2. It can do that, you know. It makes snow; it makes rain; it makes drought; it makes warmy-warmy. Of course, Cthulhu can do all that, too, if he chose. They’re a lot alike, CO2 and Cthulhu.

Reply to  BFL
April 22, 2015 12:01 pm

Yeah, but the team that survived did need to purchase new underwear, or so I understand.

Reply to  BFL
April 22, 2015 12:03 pm

Don’t forget prostitution. CO2 is known to induce whoring on a massive and worldwide scale, although apparently it only has this affect at concentrations above four one hundredths of one percent of the atmosphere.

Reply to  BFL
April 22, 2015 4:56 pm

hurling accusations of witchcraft at each other yesterday
Huston we have found the cause of Global Warming.

April 22, 2015 7:38 am
April 22, 2015 7:44 am

I’d like to see ball lightning.

Eustace Cranch
Reply to  zemlik
April 22, 2015 8:07 am

I’ve seen ball lightning. Sitting on my grandparents’ porch when I was 11 or 12, watching a storm on a mountain ridgeline about 10 miles away (Blue Ridge mountains, southwest Virginia). Big bolts of CG lightning hitting the mountain. Suddenly one of the bolts came down with a different color, orange-ish, and had a “blob’ on the end near the ground. The bolt went away, but the blob remained. Orange-red like a sunset. It floated slowly along the ridge for about 15 seconds, gradually fading.
And no, it was not a retinal after-image. I looked away and blinked, but the light stayed on the mountain. I had a couple of friends with me and we couldn’t believe what we all saw.

Reply to  zemlik
April 22, 2015 8:21 am

Ball lightning is seen when plasma in arc mode experiences z-pinches.
It can even be seen at cosmic scales in Herbig-Haro objects.

Reply to  Max Photon
April 22, 2015 8:22 am

I should have added a caption:
Herbig-Haro objects courtesy of the Calar Alto Observatory, Spain

Reply to  zemlik
April 22, 2015 3:20 pm

Quit a bit of interesting coverage on this @ wikipedia:

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  zemlik
April 23, 2015 7:30 am

A long time ago, my brother-in-law, a railroader (brakeman), told me he witnessed the formation of “ball” lightning. He was walking alongside the RR tracks towards the Depot when a “bolt” of lightning struck the steel rail up ahead of him. He said it “bounced” up off the rail about 2 feet and formed a “ball” … and that “ball” went zipping along above the steel rail until it encountered a Telegraph wire near the track ….. and it “jumped” to that wire and followed it inside the Depot and literally “knocked” the telegraph operator out of his chair and flat on the floor.
Neil said the operator was not seriously hurt ….. but he sure as heck didn’t know what the ell happen to him until Neil told him.

April 22, 2015 7:45 am

Some of the best lightening shows I have seen are above the clouds in an airplane, especuially over the tropics at night. You can see the storms for miles.

April 22, 2015 8:17 am

Interesting that they claim that cosmic rays are created by exploding stars.
Some would argue that cosmic rays are created when charged particles are accelerated by double layers in plasma.
Does your dentist use exploding stars in her office to generate x-rays?

Reply to  Max Photon
April 22, 2015 8:34 am

Cosmic rays are not photons of electromagnetic radiation. They are atomic nuclei, some of them very large and heavy nuclei, traveling at nearly the speed of light.
I guess the name cosmic rays is kind of a misnomer. They thought to originate when atoms are accelerated in supernovae and other high energy phenomenon

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:43 am

To your point – from Wikipedia:
“Cosmic rays typically includes photons (high-energy light), electrons, protons, and some heavier nuclei, as well as antimatter particles. About 90% of cosmic rays are protons, 9% are alpha particles, and the rest are other particles.”
* * *
To my point, double layers will accelerate any charged particles, such as protons and alpha particles.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:55 am

I stand corrected.
I had understood that the phenomena described in the article is related to showers of secondary particles from high energy nuclei hitting atoms in the upper atmosphere.
But on further thought, even a proton if energetic enough, will create a shower of secondary particles.
Most interesting to me are the very heavy nuclei traveling at nearly the speed of light.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:59 am

And thank you, Max.

george e. smith
Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 8:25 pm

I think one of the highest energy cosmic rays ever seen (in a stack of photographic emulsions was probably something like a bolt from a space ship or some such.
I think the total energy of the shower was calculated to be around 10^22 electron Volts or so.
Some poor lab technician, went through those plates, and identified every single track, and computed its energy , and then added them all up to get the total. Those were the days when lab technicians earned their pay.
That emulsion track was a whole lot more hairy looking than that purple blatch in the opening picture above.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 9:46 pm

You were 99% correct!

Samuel C Cogar
April 22, 2015 8:27 am

This new method to measure electric fields in thunderclouds will contribute to a better understanding and ultimately better predictions of lightning activity.

And for what “purpose” will that “better predictions” ability serve?
Even if one develops a better “prediction” method ….. there is not much one can do about it …. in the short time that they know about it.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
April 22, 2015 8:58 am

Maybe if lightning becomes well enough understood, it can be harnessed and captured for useful energy.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 10:25 am

Hey, I’ve heard crazier ideas.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 2:50 pm

The guys that use high speed HD cameras to film lightning devised a way to trigger strikes in cue and where they want them, by shooting a small rocket with a wire attached into a thunderstorm.
Next step is to build a very robust capacitor, some way to transfer the charge to a longer term storage device.
I heard about some sort of super capacitor in the works a few years back, but I suppose it has not panned out yet.
But, assuming that civilization muddles through somehow, my guess is in a few decades to hundreds of years people will be doing some amazing stuff.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 3:45 pm

That is what She wants you think, She likes to conduct Her own experiments.

April 22, 2015 8:30 am

Astronauts aboard the space station and space shuttles have reported that from space, while witnessing thunderstorms below them, they can see that lightning initiated in one place spreads out to other locations as if it was alive branching and spreading thousands and thousands of miles from the original location. I’m guessing this is some kind of Domino effect.
Other very strange phenomenon regarding lightning apparently occur in an area of Venezuela where there are large amounts of methane in the atmosphere.
The lightning doesn’t exactly ignite the methane, but the methane enhances the lightning in some strange ways.
But most incredible is it there are these recently discovered phenomenon, the so called jets and sprites that appear at the tops of thunderstorms.
In all the years the people have been studying weather, and looking at clouds, and pilots have been flying through storms and above them, these have only just now, in the past few years, been discovered and proved to be real.
This should be a real lesson for anybody that thinks that pretty much everything is understood.
There are emergent properties of matter and energy that not even dreamed of, much less well understood.
If all of these complex things are happening just from a cloud of water droplets, right under our noses and largely unknown, what things are going on, undreamed of, around distant stars, and inside of nebulae, and around neutron stars and pulsars and things like that.

Reply to  menicholas
April 22, 2015 10:31 am

I’ve seen the space station storm films, m. They’re just as you describe; the strikes are interrelated in some fashion, covering a huge area.

April 22, 2015 8:51 am

Fall from the Stars

April 22, 2015 9:12 am

We live in an Electric Universe, it’s about time more scientists started looking into this subject to gain an understanding of the interactions.
Gigantic Lightning Above the Electric Earth

A Shocker: Solar Wind Provokes Lightning on Earth

Reply to  Kuldebar
April 22, 2015 5:27 pm

+1 thanks..

Reply to  Kuldebar
April 25, 2015 8:22 am

Amazing. I am going to look into this as far as it goes.

April 22, 2015 10:49 am

Thanks, Anthony.
This University of Groningen study is interesting.
Ionization by cosmic rays as an enabler of individual lightning strikes, maybe Dr. Svensmark should take a look?

Mac the Knife
April 22, 2015 12:02 pm

When I am captivated reading blog articles like this, I hear Louie Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World!” in the distance. Says it all, for me, in this moment….

April 22, 2015 4:23 pm

“Because the Earth is a small charged body moving in a large cell of plasma, explanations of all physical phenomena in, on, and near the Earth must take the electrical behavior of plasma into account.”
“In air and other ordinary gases below the breakdown field, the dominant source of electrical conduction is via relatively few mobile ions produced by radioactive gases, ultraviolet light, or cosmic rays. Since the electrical conductivity is low, gases are dielectrics or insulators. However, once the applied electric field approaches the breakdown value, free electrons become sufficiently accelerated by the electric field to create additional free electrons by colliding, and ionizing, neutral gas atoms or molecules in a process called avalanche breakdown. The breakdown process forms a plasma that contains enough mobile electrons and positive ions to make it an electrical conductor. In the process, it forms a light emitting conductive path, such as a spark, arc or lightning.
Plasma is the state of matter where some of the electrons in a gas are stripped or “ionized” from their molecules or atoms. A plasma can be formed by high temperature, or by application of a high electric or alternating magnetic field as noted above. Due to their lower mass, the electrons in a plasma accelerate more quickly in response to an electric field than the heavier positive ions, and hence carry the bulk of the current. The free ions recombine to create new chemical compounds (for example, breaking atmospheric oxygen into single oxygen [O2 → 2O], which then recombine creating ozone [O3]).”

April 22, 2015 6:21 pm

The Global Circuit
This project makes the nearly three decades of Antarctic atmospheric electricity data available to more workers. Measurements of the vertical electric field and air-earth current density made at the Earth’s surface in Antarctica have recently been shown to be of considerable interest to scientists
interested in monitoring short-term Sun-Earth connections and long term climate change.
©2004 University of Houston

Reply to  ferdberple
April 22, 2015 6:24 pm

A global total electric current of one kiloamp flows from thunderstorms in the troposphere into the ionosphere and magnetosphere, eventually returning to the ground through the fair weather atmosphere and closing via lightning activity.
The solar variability leverage on the geoelectric circuit gained in this manner has led to postulation of mechanisms linking solar variability with weather and climate [Tinsley, 2000].

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  ferdberple
April 23, 2015 7:55 am

HA, maybe the US government already has “the plans” and “design” …. for building a Global Eelectric Circuit.
They consficated all of Nikola Tesla’s personal papers immediately after hearing of his death in his NY hotel room.
Tesla went on to pursue his ideas of wireless lighting and electricity distribution in his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs and made early (1893) pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices. He tried to put these ideas to practical use in his ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission, which was his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project.[6]

Reply to  ferdberple
April 22, 2015 6:27 pm

The Global Circuit
Global thunderstorm activity has an exponential dependence on summer equatorial temperatures [Williams, 1992, 1994; Price, 1993; Markson and Lane-Smith, 1994]. Depending on the extent to which thunderstorms and electrified clouds control the global circuit, simultaneous measurements of the DC circuit and of power in the Schumann resonance bands may provide independent proxy monitors for both global temperature and global rainfall [Markson and Lane-Smith, 1994].
The Antarctic plateau, because of its high average elevation and low absolute humidity (reduced columnar resistance) is strongly coupled to the global geoelectric circuit [Roble and Tzur, 1986]. Additionally, because the Earth’s magnetic field funnels solar charged particles into its atmosphere, it plays a vital part in solar variability influences on the geoelectric circuit [Tinsley, 2000]. Understanding Antarctica’s influence on the geoelectric circuit is vital to determining the viability of solar variability influencing weather and climate via modulation of the geoelectric field. In polar regions, the interaction of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field leads to polar convection driven by horizontal electric fields from dawn-to-dusk across the polar cap. For structures larger than ~500 km, this polar cap potential produces significant vertical electric fields at ground level [Park, 1976a]. These fields provide an average influence of up to ~20 % on the global circuit in the polar cap (the average influence varies with magnetic latitude) and has been experimentally confirmed by statistical analysis of single-site measurements [Burns et al., 1998; Tinsley et al., 1998; Frank-Kamenetsky et al., 1999; Corney et al., 2003; Reddell et al., 2004].

April 22, 2015 9:51 pm

Lightning in super slow motion

April 22, 2015 9:52 pm

Upward lightning

April 22, 2015 10:11 pm

I am surprised there is not more discussion on this site about the relationship between electricity and weather / climate.
Modern cosmology seems to see gravity as the fundamental creative force, to the amazing exclusion of electrified plasma. They’ll talk about “gases” at millions of degrees, which of course is no longer gas.
They’ll talk about shock waves from explosions generating high energy radiation, but never acceleration or charged particles in double layers in plasma.
They’ll talk about magnetic fields everywhere, but never about the currents that necessarily generate them.
And they’ll invent black holes and neutron stars and dark matter and dark energy to plug all the gaping holes in their gravity models.
Is it not similar with weather and climate? All models seem to attempt to capture only temperature- and gravity-driven mechanisms. Yet there is little discussion about electric driving forces. Electricity, if it is discussed at all, is always just an effect, never a cause.
Your comments?

Reply to  Max Photon
April 23, 2015 2:55 am

In the 1980’s when I was heavily into amateur and shortwave radio I accidentally witnessed an unusual phenomenon on the air and subsequently witnessed it on several other occasions. I was tuning the bands one afternoon with thunderstorms probably within 10km. Around 21MHz I heard what sounded like a fast pulsing sound, very broadband, which increased in pulse rate over about 20 seconds to a high pitched buzz which culminated in the typical “crash” sound of a lightning discharge as heard on an AM radio. It then went silent for anything from a few seconds to a few minutes until it repeated again. I was using a loaded 1/4 wave vertical over a corrugated iron roof at a height of about eight metres. Yes, probably a bit unwise to be using the equipment in that situation but both it and I survived without incident.

Reply to  Max Photon
April 23, 2015 9:04 am

well Max the supreme deities of long ago always had a thunder bolt at hand. Gravity was not so important to them.

Bob Weber
April 23, 2015 5:35 am

It’s very encouraging to see so many here interested in this topic. The days of looking at the Earth as an isolated body in space unaffected by plasma activity from solar or cosmic sources are coming to a close as awareness builds of electric-magnetic influences on our weather and climate – Electric Weather – and the wide variety of electric weather effects, lightning being one such effect.

Alan Robertson
April 23, 2015 7:36 am

ems “lightnin’ rod” news

April 23, 2015 11:30 am

This Letter reports reliable satellite data in the period of 1980–2007 covering two full 11-yr cosmic ray (CR) cycles, clearly showing the correlation between CRs and ozone depletion, especially the polar ozone loss (hole) over Antarctica. The results provide strong evidence of the physical mechanism that the CR-driven electron-induced reaction of halogenated molecules plays the dominant role in causing the ozone hole. Moreover, this mechanism predicts one of the severest ozone losses in 2008–2009 and probably another large hole around 2019–2020, according to the 11-yr CR cycle.

April 24, 2015 2:58 am

Magnetic storm and a record level of lava in Kilauea.

April 25, 2015 9:16 am

Was it Charles P Stenmetz who was asked if it was true that lightning never strikes twice in the same place?
HIs response, as I recall, was yes, it WAS true, because there is nothing left to hit after lightning strikes the first time.

Reply to  Allan MacRae
April 25, 2015 9:17 am


Reply to  Allan MacRae
April 25, 2015 12:04 pm

Silly of course, many objects, like the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower are hit many times a year.
And then there is this guy:

April 25, 2015 12:06 pm

Boy, do not keep up with the research, and you miss stuff like this:
NASA has now has proof that thunderstorms produce not only gamma rays, but antimatter:

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