A study on the jets titled “Upward propagation of gigantic jets revealed by 3D radio and optical mapping” has been published in the journal Science Advances.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have created a detailed 3D of the “gigantic jets” of electrical discharge that appeared during an Oklahoma thunderstorm, reaching 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) towards space, reaching into the ionosphere, the last region of Earth’s atmosphere, bordering with space. The jets moved an estimated 300 coulombs of electrical charge into the ionosphere, making them the most powerful of their kind that has been studied, twice as powerful as the next strongest one.
They carried about 100 times the electrical charge of a typical lightning bolt, which carries less than five coulombs between clouds or to the ground from clouds. Plasma streamers shot off into the atmosphere with temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius) alongside structures called leaders, which are over 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit (4426 degrees Celsius). Gigantic jets are estimated to occur between 1,000 and 50,000 times yearly, though no observation system is dedicated to detecting them.
“We were able to map this gigantic jet in three dimensions with really high-quality data. We were able to see very high frequency (VHF) sources above the cloud top, which had not been seen before with this level of detail. Using satellite and radar data, we were able to learn where the very hot leader portion of the discharge was located above the cloud,” said Levi Boggs, a research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the paper’s corresponding author.
““For whatever reason, there is usually a suppression of cloud-to-ground discharges. There is a buildup of negative charge, and then we think that the conditions in the storm top weaken the uppermost charge layer, which is usually positive. In the absence of the lightning discharges we normally see, the gigantic jet may relieve the buildup of excess negative charge in the cloud,” Boggs continued.
You can read more from the study here.