June 3, 2009

Scientists study how lightning is created

U.S. scientists are using high-energy particles from space in an attempt to solve one of nature's mysteries -- how thunderstorms create lightning.

Florida Institute of Technology researchers Joseph Dwyer and Hamid Rassoul, with Martin Uman from the University of Florida, have developed a technique to remotely measure thunderstorm electrical fields on the ground.

They said by measuring small radio pulses made by cosmic-rays passing through the storms, they might be able to reconstruct the electric fields along the high-energy particle's paths. That, the researchers said, could allow them to measure any lightning initiation pockets that might exist.

Cosmic-rays are high-energy particles from outer space that constantly rain down on our planet, said Dwyer, who is leading the research. They form a natural probe for measuring thunderstorms "¦ from a relatively safe location on the ground.

The study appears in the Journal of Geophysical Research.