Giant ‘reactive’ lightning reaching the edge of space baffles scientists

(ORDO NEWS) — In May 2018, scientists recorded a “giant jet” lightning hovering over a thundercloud in Oklahoma, USA, literally “two steps away” from the official boundary of outer space.

And although this was not the first observed object of its kind, it, according to a press release , turned out to be twice as powerful as the previous one. This phenomenon is still a mystery to scientists, and this is largely due to its rarity.

Giant reactive lightning

Fortunately, thanks to advanced mapping technology, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, were able to view the mysterious object in detail, which gave them valuable information about the mysterious phenomenon.

This was made possible thanks to several instruments that were able to record an extremely rare high-energy event.

“We were able to map this giant jet in 3D with really high-quality data,” said Levi Boggs, a research fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of the new study, published in the journal Science Advances.

“We saw very high frequency (VHF) sources above the top of the clouds, which had not been observed before with such a level of detail.”

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the cause of this phenomenon, so there are still disproportionately more questions than answers.

Giant reactive lightning reaching the edge of space baffles scientists 2
This series of images taken from a video shows the formation of a giant jet over Oklahoma in May 2018

First, we don’t know why giant jet lightning ever travels upward, far beyond the Earth‘s upper atmosphere. The researchers suggest that this is how thunderclouds can reduce the accumulation of negative charge, “thrown” it into space.

So far, the authors of the study have determined for sure that small “streamers”, streaks of plasma with a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 204.4 degrees Celsius), are sources of high frequencies, while the strongest currents come from the “leaders”, much hotter areas that can exceed 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit (over 4,426.7 degrees Celsius).

Now Boggs and his colleagues are studying whether these rare events, which have no clear scientific explanation, could affect the operation of satellites in low Earth orbit.


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