It has recently been discovered that lightning generates upward-directed relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds. This extends the phenomenon of relativistic runaway breakdown inside thunderclouds to the atmosphere above thunderclouds. This marks a profound advance in our understanding of the atmosphere because we now know it acts as a giant, natural, particle accelerator. The accelerated electrons can reach significant relativistic energies of some tens of MeV during their passage from the troposphere, through the middle atmosphere, into near-Earth space. These relativistic electron beams constitute a current above thunderclouds and effectively transfer energy from the troposphere to the middle atmosphere. This coupling process thereby forms a novel element of the global atmospheric electric circuit which links tropospheric thunderclouds to the atmosphere above.
|Effective start/end date||10/01/11 → 9/01/14|
relativistic electron beams