Lightning is powerful enough to cause nuclear reactions in the atmosphere, according to a new study. Japanese researchers report that the powerful electric shock produces gamma rays, the most powerful waves or radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum, which react with air. The reaction produces radioisotopes and even positrons, the antimatter counterpart of electrons.
Scientists have known for some time that lightning and storm clouds emit gamma rays, but this is the first time that someone shows that they are also responsible for nuclear reactions in the atmosphere. The findings were reported by a team from the University of Kyoto led by Teruaki Enoto.
In 2015, Enoto and his colleagues installed gamma-ray detectors on the west coast of Japan, which is often hit by lightning and thunderstorms. At one point his research was compromised by funding problems. They went online for help where they convinced generous donors to fund the research.
What is lightning
Lightning is a giant discharge of electricity accompanied by a bright flash of light and loud thunder. The spark can reach more than five miles (eight kilometers) in length, raise the air temperature by up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27,700 degrees Celsius) and contain one hundred million electric volts. Lightning can actually be the best carrier of life, although sometimes it can cause deaths. The immense heat and energy released during an attack can convert elements into compounds found in organisms, so during the early period of the planet the rays could have helped to stimulate life, like a defibrillator.
In early 2017, scientists installed four detectors in Kashiwazaki City, which picked up a beam that fell to the ground only a few hundred meters away. When badyzing the data, the researchers found that they had recorded three gamma-ray bursts. The first lasted only one thousandth of a second, the second was a gamma-ray glow that faded after a few milliseconds, while the third was a prolonged emission that lasted about a minute.
Credit: University of Kyoto / Teruaki Enoto.
The second residual glow was produced by the reaction of a beam with nitrogen from the atmosphere. The beam is powerful enough to eliminate a neutron from nitrogen. When the neutron is reabsorbed, a residual glow occurs. Prolonged emissions are the result of unstable nitrogen atoms that release positrons. Antimatter collides with electrons that annihilate each other, producing gamma rays in the process.
How lightning is formed
Each day, about four million lightning bolts fall on the surface of the planet. Despite this, how lightning is formed (and then thunder) is not fully understood at the physical level. We know one thing with certainty: it comes from the clouds (dust, water and ice). The ice inside the cloud rubs against each other and is electrically polarized or charged (the exact mechanism is a little diffuse, so everything is debatable). The lighter ice will move upwards while the heavier ice will remain below separating the negative and positive charges.
"We have the idea that antimatter is something that only exists in science fiction, who knew it could be happening over our heads on a stormy day?" Enoto says.
"And we know all this thanks to our fans who joined us through & # 39; academics & # 39 ;. We are really grateful to everyone."
Currently, there are ten gamma-ray detectors on the Japanese coast that are collecting data. Enoto hopes to get an even deeper insight into the fascinating atomic world that triggers the lightning.
Scientific reference: Teruaki Enoto et al., Photonuclear reactions triggered by lightning discharge, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038 / nature24630.
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