Discovery: Lightning creates anti-matter in our atmosphere

From the “this is likely to push out chemtrails as the next big conspiracy theory” department. I posited back in 2009, when I first covered this story, that the huge vertical electric charge differentials in Earth’s atmosphere acted like a particle accelerator. It seems the researchers here agree with me.

Lightning, with a chance of antimatter

From KYOTO UNIVERSITY

Japan — A storm system approaches: the sky darkens, and the low rumble of thunder echoes from the horizon. Then without warning… Flash! Crash! — lightning has struck.

This scene, while familiar to anyone and repeated constantly across the planet, is not without a feeling of mystery. But now that mystery has deepened, with the discovery that lightning can result in matter-antimatter annihilation.

In a collaborative study appearing in Nature, researchers from Japan describe how gamma rays from lightning react with the air to produce radioisotopes and even positrons — the antimatter equivalent of electrons.

A Kyoto University-based team has unraveled the mystery of gamma-ray emission cascades caused by lightning strikes. The gamma rays are produced by the annihilation of antimatter in the form of positrons. CREDIT Kyoto University/Teruaki Enoto

“We already knew that thunderclouds and lightning emit gamma rays, and hypothesized that they would react in some way with the nuclei of environmental elements in the atmosphere,” explains Teruaki Enoto from Kyoto University, who leads the project.

“In winter, Japan’s western coastal area is ideal for observing powerful lightning and thunderstorms. So, in 2015 we started building a series of small gamma-ray detectors, and placed them in various locations along the coast.”

But then the team ran into funding problems. To continue their work, and in part to reach out to a wide audience of potentially interested members of the public as quickly as possible, they turned to the internet.

“We set up a crowdfunding campaign through the ‘academist’ site,” continues Enoto, “in which we explained our scientific method and aims for the project. Thanks to everybody’s support, we were able to make far more than our original funding goal.”

Spurred by their success, the team built more detectors and installed them across the northwest coast of Honshu. And then in February 2017, four detectors installed in Kashiwazaki city, Niigata recorded a large gamma-ray spike immediately after a lightning strike a few hundred meters away.

It was the moment the team realized they were seeing a new, hidden face of lightning.

When they analyzed the data, the scientists found three distinct gamma-ray bursts. The first was less than one millisecond in duration; the second was a gamma-ray afterglow that decayed over several dozens of milliseconds; and finally there was a prolonged emission lasting about one minute.

Enoto explains, “We could tell that the first burst was from the lightning strike. Through our analysis and calculations, we eventually determined the origins of the second and third emissions as well.”

The second afterglow, for example, was caused by lightning reacting with nitrogen in the atmosphere. The gamma rays emitted in lightning have enough energy to knock a neutron out of atmospheric nitrogen, and it was the reabsorption of this neutron by particles in the atmosphere that produced the gamma-ray afterglow.

The final, prolonged emission was from the breakdown of now neutron-poor and unstable nitrogen atoms. These released positrons, which subsequently collided with electrons in annihilation events releasing gamma rays.

“We have this idea that antimatter is something that only exists in science fiction. Who knew that it could be passing right above our heads on a stormy day?” says Enoto.

“And we know all this thanks to our supporters who joined us through ‘academist’. We are truly grateful to all.”

The team still maintains over ten detectors on the coast of Japan, and are continually collecting data. They look forward to new discoveries that may await them, and Enoto hopes to continue seeing the participation of ordinary citizens in research, expanding the bounds of scientific discovery.

###

The paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature24630

Photonuclear reactions triggered by lightning discharge

Abstract

Lightning and thunderclouds are natural particle accelerators1. Avalanches of relativistic runaway electrons, which develop in electric fields within thunderclouds2,3, emit bremsstrahlung γ-rays. These γ-rays have been detected by ground-based observatories4,5,6,7,8,9, by airborne detectors10 and as terrestrial γ-ray flashes from space10,11,12,13,14. The energy of the γ-rays is sufficiently high that they can trigger atmospheric photonuclear reactions10,15,16,17,18,19 that produce neutrons and eventually positrons via β+ decay of the unstable radioactive isotopes, most notably 13N, which is generated via 14N + γ → 13N + n, where γ denotes a photon and n a neutron. However, this reaction has hitherto not been observed conclusively, despite increasing observational evidence of neutrons7,20,21 and positrons10,22that are presumably derived from such reactions. Here we report ground-based observations of neutron and positron signals after lightning. During a thunderstorm on 6 February 2017 in Japan, a γ-ray flash with a duration of less than one millisecond was detected at our monitoring sites 0.5–1.7 kilometres away from the lightning. The subsequent γ-ray afterglow subsided quickly, with an exponential decay constant of 40–60 milliseconds, and was followed by prolonged line emission at about 0.511 megaelectronvolts, which lasted for a minute. The observed decay timescale and spectral cutoff at about 10 megaelectronvolts of the γ-ray afterglow are well explained by de-excitation γ-rays from nuclei excited by neutron capture. The centre energy of the prolonged line emission corresponds to electron–positron annihilation, providing conclusive evidence of positrons being produced after the lightning.

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75 thoughts on “Discovery: Lightning creates anti-matter in our atmosphere

  1. Interesting and might this shed some light on my view that elements were not all formed during the big bang, if lightning can knock out neutrons, bigger forces can also move them around, the charges on the solar surface for example dwarf lightning energy and particles are accelerated at insane speeds, including the other part of the element soup, protons.

    Goood article A, much to think about on how this applies to astronomy as well as earth’s atmosphere and electrical phenomena.

      • The core implodes actually. This causes the outer structures to cascade inwards heating them and subjecting them to greater pressure. That generates large quantities of fusion reactions in those outer layers, The sudden increase in photon pressure and energy only then blow the outer regions of the star into pace.

      • Except your Neutrino flux is lacking significantly and the observable Temperature profile of the Sun is upside down to what it should be….. No, what you have is a “Model” of how you think elements are created…. and that is all you have.

    • These are not an explostion.

      The inside of the ring will not be as the outside of the ring as with any explosion, the force pushes outward, you wont have that effect, you are looking at the z axis of a plasma pinch

    • Well an electron-positron mutual annihilation event is a piddling 1MeV event. so the inverse created by lightning, is not at all surprising.

      Just under 60 years ago, I was involved with some people doing nuclear fusion experiments, with both the D-D interactions, and the D-T interactions, Firing Deuterons at heavy ice targets at 600kV acceleration does the trick, I used a scintillation detector to detect the neutrons that resulted from those reactions. The D-D reaction produces Tritium and about 4MeV , but the D-T reaction which can then occur gives 4He plus a neutron and 17.6Mev The neutron typically is 14Mev, and the rest of the energy is in recoil of the 4He atom.

      We got plenty of 14MeV neutrons in my detector so I know we were getting Tritium produced.

      Well they were getting them produced, I just made a detector for them.

      G

    • Today? I’d give it best of the week, anyway. This is a new door into atmospheric physics research if I understand correctly.

  2. Well, I have been seeing significantly/many fewer not plain old contrails from planes flying toward nonexistent airports all over the place, in recent months, and more plain old contrails (from fewer planes) heading toward airports that show up on maps and such to the north and south . Also noticed a couple plains doing big looping maneuvers a few weeks ago (while leaving the not plain old contrail kind).

  3. A little bit off-topic but, given the number of smart people who read and post here, I have a query. From what I can determine, a cloud to ground lightning strike is similar to a capacitor discharge, with tens of thousands of amps flowing between the cloud to ground. Now, current can’t just start and finish without a return path, so where does the return current flow ?

    • I suggest you shuffle your feet in wool socks on a carpet and walk up to your wife and touch her nose.
      There you’ll find the return effect when she slugs you.

    • Lightning is static electricity. Charge accumulation in the clouds induces an opposite charge in the ground. When the potential exceeds the breakdown voltage of the air, you get a cloud to ground (or more accurately, ground to cloud) strike. No return path needed, anymore than when you shuffle your feet across the carpet and touch your sister on the ear, inducing a fairly spectacular response then, as well. ;-)

      • It is far more complicated that that, plus there are reverse polarity strikes, superbolts, etc.
        Most of the charge goes from the ground up into the cloud during a regular bolt. The initial downward path is established by a stepped leader, and once this creates a channel of ionized air from the cloud to the ground, current flows upwards.
        There are some great high speed videos of all of this now.
        In fact, since the last time I looked, I bet there are even newer and better ones.

    • Ah, good question. This is an electrostatic discharge, not a traditional DC circuit. The initial leader probes from cloud down, but is invisible, creating a positively charged ionization pathway toward negatively charged ground (for a common negative CG—the opposite is also common, usually from tall buildings). When they ‘connect’ (air dielectric breaks down) the actual visible lightning path is a negative to positive return upstroke, visible lightning.

    • Typical current flow is 20,000 amps.

      The charge build up is gradual. It really is a capacitative discharge. To ‘ground’ a lightning rod it should be connected to a capacitor type set of ground wires in a spoke-like fashion in order to gather the charge that will head up to the cloud (usually). Yes the ‘leader’ is often seen coming down. The current flow is up (usually).

      Nothing mysterious. The charge accumulates then is neutralized suddenly.

      • “Cloud to ground lightning is rare when there is no rain.”
        Except when it isn’t.
        There is still much to be learned about lightning. Volcanic lightning anyone?

        Then there is Mega Lightning, also known as Sprites or space lightning. There appears to be much more at play here than just static discharge from water droplets in clouds. There are telluric currents in the lithosphere and oceans, and ionospheric currents in the upper boundaries of the atmosphere with discharges happening essentially continually around the globe.

      • Think of the system as a giant Leyden jar with a conductor (the ground)and a second conductor (the plasma ionosphere) separated by a neutral non-conducting insulator (the nitrogen atmosphere). It charges by induction of our spinning magnetic field inside the sun’s magnetosphere. When the voltage differential is great enough the atmosphere breaks down into a localized plasma conductor pathway producing a discharge.

    • Pretty sure that the first paragraph of this post said the same thing.

      Ps Trendy pseudo- aphorisms are grating, years past their half- life.

    • Well, from the NASA map, at least these researchers may have detected the first ones from storms over Japan. (They may also have shown that the positrons are also generated somewhat closer to the surface than the Fermi detectors did – apparently Fermi only detects them when they actually strike the instrument. Or so it seems from the NASA page.)

  4. Wow real science but as so much money is being diverted to study a non subject they had to get crowd funding (showing that Joe public values the real over imagined)

    James Bull

    • They probably would have secured funding 10 times faster and 10 times greater if they were subsequently studying the possible affect that the event could pose to Global Warming

  5. N13 has a half-life of about 10 minutes (600 seconds). N13 decays by positron emission, usually called beta-plus emission.

    Similarly Oxygen-15 has a half life of 122 seconds and decays by beta-plus emission.

    Though shorter in half-life, I would expect creation of O15 as {O16 to O15} -> beta-plus emission -> N15 (stable isotope) via the photonuclear reaction as well. At about 1/4 the rate of N15 (this article) due to the different molar concentrations present in air (78% N2, 21% O2).

    That certain unstable isotopes decay by beta-plus has been known for a long time.
    Dirac theoretically proposed positrons in 1928, and Carl David Anderson discovered the positron on August 2, 1932, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1936.
    Two others in cloud chamber experiments in 1929 noted the appearance of what appeared to be particles that acted like electrons but curved in the opposite direction in an applied magnetic field. They did not pursue these observations, thus did not get the Nobel.

  6. Two papers (2007and 2012, footnote 38 to the recognition chapter of The Arts of Truth) showed that lightning produces a neutron flux. There is an alternative mechanism to that posited by the new Japanese paper. The Widom-Larsen theory of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) is an inversion of weak force nuclear decay. In sufficiently high electric fields electrons become ‘heavy’ since E=Mc^2. It is captured by a proton to form a ‘cold’ (low momentum) neutron with a large capture cross section. So it is captured by water to form deuterium. Repeat and you have tritium. Repeat and ‘quatrium’ (Mouse that Roared inside joke) forms and immediately beta decays releasing weak gamma rays and heat. Done in a nickel lattice, substantial heat can be generated this way. The lightning arc path is the atmospheric equivalent of the lab nickel or palladium lattice.
    Quite possibly both the Japanese pathway and the Widom Larsen pathways are at work. Definitely interesting and unsettled science.
    BTW the original electric field buildup in a thunderhead prior to the lightning discharge is via the Helmholtz double layer mechanism, the operating principle for commercial EDLC “supercaps”.

  7. There is likely a O16 photonuclear to O15 + betaplus emission to then stable N15 pathway as well.

    N13 has a half life of about 10 minutes.
    O15 has a half-life of 122 seconds.

    But N14 is much more abundant in the atmosphere than O16. But O15 production should still occur as well.

  8. So this process converts a very tiny amount of 14N to 13C. But this probably was an ongoing process for billions of years of lightning strokes every second or so. In the end one would expect that quite a noticeable amount of 13C should have infiltrated the carbon cycle and over the geologic past the 13c ratio to 12C (d13C) should have increased gradually.

    For the moment we don’t see that really (Barral et al 2017)(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031018216304850

    But maybe the big numbers distort the impression. Anyway, if we lose 14N gradually ever so slightly over the geologic past, that would mean that the atmosphere would have been more dense in the far distant past. This would solve two major problems:

    1:A denser atmosphere is a warmer atmosphere (Nikolov and Zeller 2017) explaining the “hot houses” of the past.

    2: A denser atmosphere made it easier for insects and dinosaurs to learn to fly.

    • When I read dinosaurs, I immediately thought of Sinclairs Dino, that would take a serious supply of Beano to keep it on the ground.

    • A denser atmosphere certainly is warmer on Venus, although Jim Hanson blames the warming on CO2, and you also have to consider that it is closer to ol’ Sol. Maybe it’s a mix of these factors as yet unquantified.

  9. It is a well known fact that lightning reacts with N2 and O2 and a small amount of nitrogen oxide is produced which is absorbed in the rain .The nitrogen oxide changes in the soil to nitrites which plants can take up .The greening that occurs after thunder storms is mostly from the rain but there is a small fertilizing affect .
    As an aside nitrogen fertilizer is classed as a pollutant in many countries but it is an absolute fact that without the use of artificial nitrogen fertilizer the majority of the worlds population would starve ..
    I will wait for the silly comments from the organic growers community but that is a fact .

    • Natural potassium nitrate deposits (saltpeter) are thought to be the product of lightning-produced nitrates, as are sodium nitrates (Chile saltpeter). The Chileans prefer sodium nitrate – it’s much cheaper than the sodium day rate.

  10. “The Stanford University VLF Group investigates the Earth’s electrical environment, its upper atmosphere, lightning discharges, radiation belts, and the ionized regions of upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere and magnetosphere.”
    Pictorial links to number of interesting articles are available on the SU’s webpage
    http://vlf.stanford.edu/

  11. O-18 is the precursor for commercial production of F-18 used in PET scans. F-18 decay gives out positrons. Proton accelerators are used to up the O to F.

  12. Just a thought. The C12/C13 ratio in the atmosphere has been a factor in the calculation of how much man’s consumption of fossil fuels contributes to the increase in atmospheric CO2. So if a new source of atmospheric C13 is discovered, is this new source sufficient to alter that calculation?

    • Not over the ~ 70 year period of interest for CAGW. Phottsynthesismfsvors 12C, so cossil fuel sequestration increases relative 13C. Burning fossil fuels changes the rstio back in favor of 12C on decadal time scales, not the millenia or millions of years this lightning mechanism would take. Now, is,likely true that over the several billion years before photosynthesis started producing fossil fuels, the slow increase in 13C was via this or related mechanisms.

  13. I always thought that the gamma rays associated with lightning were generated by cosmic radiation, and that the lightning strike was initiated by the ionisation caused by the cosmic ray and its cascade of secondary particles. I would be surprised if the lightning energy is sufficient to cause nuclear reactions , but I am no expert on the subject. Comments anyone?

    • See my comment above concerning LENR. Observed cold neutron flux from lightning suggests an alternative gamma radiation mechanism. Depends on energetics of observed gammas, and I have not researched that detail. LENR should produce only weakly energetic gamma rsdiation, which the heavy electron flux will further shield.

      • I think this new paper is a breakthrough. Sorry, ristvan, but LENR is pretty much the model for global warming: teeny, tiny differences between input and output energies, “discovered” by questionable measurement techniques and magnified immensely by arithmetic legerdemain and chartsmanship. Lightning discharges can have potential drops of 100 MeV. Gamma rays are generally considered to be above 0.5 MeV. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect gamma radiation in the 1 to 10 MeV range from lighting. Anything above 5 MeV can induce nuclear fission in uranium, for goodness sakes… Why not pry some oxygen and nitrogen atoms apart?

      • MK, not so tiny. Read the Lenr section of my recognition chapter of that ebook. Look at the SPWAR (navy) SEMs. Look at the Brillouin Energy demos using the AC skin effect producing Swinger’s posited ‘rogue wave’ plasmon excitation. Now, whether this ever goes beyond a lab curiosity is still a very an open question. But IMO weak force Widom-Larsen theory explanations for observation has been vindicated in the lab.

        The analogy to AGW is striking. Is CO2 a GHG? Yes, proven by Tyndall in 1859. Does it matter? Dunno.

      • I was actually heavily involved in cold fusion research right after Fleischmann and Pons made their announcement. At the first (last?) international conference on cold fusion in Santa Fe, NM in 1989, I looked over all of the experiments that had or had not produced “excess heat.” I even had a lengthy conversation in the airport with John Bockris. Here’s what I concluded.

        The only people who got “excess heat” results used unregulated current sources, and were measuring voltage and current across and through their cells with either panel meters, or strip charts. Neither had a frequency response of greater than 100 Hz. Bockris noted that none of his experiments had produced excess heat unless the palladium had grown dendrites, which concentrated the electric field. Well, my electrochemist noted that it was easy to produce electric arcs in liquid electrolytes when the cathode has dendritic features. The arcs tend to form, then burn the dendrites down and self-extinguish. In the tenth of a millisecond that took, the current source (if it was a lead-acid battery, as so many of the CF researchers used) could deliver 1200 W. Calorimeters dutifully integrated the resulting heat, and showed astounding gains. A strip Brush strip chart recorder would show no jump in current, and forget about panel meters.

        A great deal of criticism was leveled at the calorimetry that Fleischmann and Pons used, but it was really perfectly sound. The real error was in the simple measurement of what went into the cells.

        That’s the real explanation of the Fleischmann and Pons experiments. The stuff you’ve directed me to is interesting, though, and I will really delve into it.

  14. All countries which have electrical storms will have to either
    1. Ban them. (anti-matter is carcinogenic and/or causes mutations….)
    or
    2. Charge an anti-matter tax.

    • sophocles,
      I think – 2.
      Governments appear to be addicted to our money.
      Since the electrical storms appear to have no obvious assets or income to tax, we – selected tax-payers – will be obliged to make up the yawning difference. By law.

      Surprise.

      Auto

      • I thought so, too. Governments would have to fund the healthcare costs for all the extra cancers from somewhere. :-) (Healthcare funding varies from country to country …)

        Whatever; we have to explore all the options, and now we know about this, doing nothing is not an option.
        Like the ozone layer, we could: ban lightning, ban the atmosphere, put a cost on anti-matter pollution like Carbon pollution so everyone pays for it, and so on.

  15. Great work. Solid science. Keep at it no matter where it leads. Too much research is being directed by “big money” with “expected outcomes”. I find it hard to believe that “scientists” know what the climate will be like 50 years form now, but we have such a lack of understanding of what happens in a common lighting bolt! Great Work!!!!!

  16. http://www.sciencealert.com/oklahoma-had-the-longest-lightning-strike-on-record

    Oklahoma Had The Longest Lightning Strike on Record

    10 times longer than we thought possible.
    FIONA MACDONALD
    19 SEP 2016

    “The United Nation’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has just announced that the longest lightning strike on record was a 2007 bolt in Oklahoma that stretched 321 km (200 miles) – almost reaching from one side of the state to the other.

    It was so big, in fact, that it’s prompted calls for a rewrite of the official definition of a lightning strike – seeing as before this, it was assumed that lightning could travel no more than around 32 km (20 miles) from a storm.

    But while the US set the record for the longest distance, France experienced the longest-lasting lightning strike ever, according to the WMO, with a flash over the Cote d’Azur region in 2012 lighting up the sky for an incredible 7.74 seconds – prior to the event, lightning was thought to max out at 1 second.

    “It was a ‘cloud-to-cloud’ discharge,” Randall Cerveny from the WMO told the AFP. The French lightning bolt also stretched an impressive (and definition-defying) 200 km (125 miles) in distance.”

    end excerpt

    • This rates high as an excellent post (along with comments), of interest by my being often too close and seeing all the lightning in approach of Celia (1970). Videos and links appreciated. Lots of references in the abstract—significant?

      Molinari, J., N. Demetriades, R. Holle and D. Vollaro. 2006. Applications of long-range lightning data to hurricane formation and intensification. Preprint. 2nd Conference Meteorological Applications. Lightning-Data:3.5. Later interest?

      It is important — White pelicans killed by lightning. Sugden, J. W. 1930. Auk. 57:72-73. Helps explain the Harvey disappearance of birds? Do the storm chasers chase birds? Possibly safer. It also occurred to me that Harvey strike area Live Oaks have (exceptional?) evidence of survival of a number of strikes. The trees degrade (and/or die) slowly. These are old, hard to age, and someone new to the area remarked about such survival of one (streak along one side) after the storm took out several adjacent more healthy looking ones. Hurricane should settle the question of what kind of tree to plant (for your descendants). Hard to judge the wood from the bark. Hard to study hurricanes. Hard to give up this post.

  17. Nikola Tesla is jumping up and down waving his hand.

    Discovery: Lightning creates anti-matter in our atmosphere

    UV arc lamps beamedto the upper atmosphere = connection to sun via interrupters of millions of amps into massive grounding deep into the earth.

    Results: worldwide mobile data and transport with batteries charged via the universe, the sun and the earth.

  18. Totally fascinating and another fine example of the superiority of WUWT as a site where really cool science and discussion happens.
    So, if fusion is happening and anti-matter being momentarily created then the possibility that the phenomenon of ball lightning which remains in a coherent shape for seconds/minutes may yet hold more surprises for us and have something to tell us about controlling fusion. Yes/no?

  19. Correction
    Bremsstrahlung radiation is not gamma radiation. If they can’t get that one why believe the rest of the document

    • Bremsstrahlung can indeed be in the gamma range. It just depends on the energy of the electrons involved. Galactic bremsstrahlung is all gamma.

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