Date: Sat, 17 Sep 2005 09:53:49 -0700
From: "Terry W. Colvin" <fortean1@...
Subject: Lightning anomalies *below*/*above* thunderclouds
Forwarding permission was given by William R. Corliss
SCIENCE FRONTIERS, No. 161, Sep-Oct 2005, pp. 3 & 4
Lightning anomalies *below* thunderclouds
Static electricity was well known to ancient humans. Paleolithic people
certainly noticed sparks when they stroked their animal pelts. But it
wasn't until Ben Franklin's kite experiment that lightning was definitely
shown to be skin to static electricity.
It was thus easy after Ben's kite flight to explain lightning as simply
big sparks triggered when electrical charge was separated within
thunderclouds and a strong electric field was set up between cloud
Now, though, this seems a simplistic view of what really happens during
a lightning strike. Scientific instruments have recorded at least four
unanticipated phenomena associated with lightning strikes that change
the entire theoretical picture. Lightning isn't what we thought it was.
(1) The lightning "leaders" that descend from thunderclouds are
"stepped" and jagged. They are composed of many short, straight
segments arranged in a crooked course. Only when this jagged
trail reaches the ground does the familiar luminous stroke of
lightning shoot along the leaders' stepped and highly ionized path.
Questions: Why the multisegmented path, and how is it created?
(2) Measurements of electric fields within thunderclouds rarely
exceed 200,000 volts/meter---much too small to ionize the air
and lead to electrical discharges. Apparently, thunderstorm
circulation by itself cannot initiate lightning.
(3) Remarkably, X-ray flashes occur during thunderstorms. The
conventional thunderstorm models do not produce X-rays.
(4) Ditto for gamma-ray flashes. What is their source?
Given the above facts, current thinking has turned to the cosmic rays
that perpetually bombard the planet. These energetic particles are
thought to smash into air molecules triggering avalanches of high-speed
"run-away" electrons plus a burst of gamma rays. These run-away
electrons create the first stepped leader. As the first leader's
run-away electrons accumulate at the leader's tip, they create an
intense electric field that generates still another stepped leader
that strikes off in a slightly different direction. An X-ray flash
is emitted as the new leader is formed. More stepped leaders
approach the earth leaving behind an ionized trail. A full-fledged
lightning flash then occurs.
The main lightning bolt may be thought of as a spark, but it has an
extraterrestrial trigger. Old Ben Franklin was oblivious to cosmic
rays, even though he was pierced through by them all the time.
(Dwyer, Joseph R.; "A Bolt out of the Blue," *Scientific American*,
292:64, June 2005)
Lightning anomalies *above* thunderclouds
We have already cataloged a veritable zoo of sprites, elves, blue
starters and other luminous phenomena that occur above thunderclouds.
(See GLL1 in *Remarkable Luminous Phenomena*.) The zoo many [sic]
be new to mainstream science, but its denizens have been reported in
SF for decades.
Now, we make space for something more scary but perhaps in the end
only illusory: *mega*lightning.
The observational basis for the claim of megalightning's existence is
found in a photograph of ill-fated *Columbia*'s reentry trail taken
by an amateur astronomer in San Francisco. (See illustration.)
[CAPTION: Corkscrew trail of "something" intersecting the reentry
trajectory of the Space Shuttle *Columbia*.]
In this photograph one sees a corkscrew trail of "something"
intercepting the *Columbia*'s reentry trajectory at an altitude
of about 70 kilometers. This is well above normal terrestrial
lightning but in the region where sprites occur. Could
megalightning be another unexpected electrical phenomenon
of the outer fringes of the earth's atmosphere? Could the
space shuttle *Columbia* have been downed by megalightning?
Government denials and conspiracy theories are rife on the internet.
July 4, 2005. Cr. G. Decarlo)
Comment. The luminous trail seemingly aimed at *Columbia* could also
be that of a heat-seeking missile! But who could launch such a device
at 70 kilometers?
The downing of TWA 800 also comes to the fore here. In that tragedy,
too, a photo shows a streak of light intersecting the aircraft's path.
SCIENCE FRONTIERS is a bimonthly collection of scientific anomalies in
the current literature. Published by the Sourcebook Project, P.O. Box 107,
Glen Arm, MD 21057 USA. Annual subscription: $8.00.
"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank
Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
Alternate: < fortean1 at msn.com >
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