Discovery of Intense Gamma-Ray Flashes of Atmospheric Origin

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Science  27 May 1994:
Vol. 264, Issue 5163, pp. 1313-1316
DOI: 10.1126/science.264.5163.1313


Detectors aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory have observed an unexplained terrestrial phenomenon: brief, intense flashes of gamma rays. These flashes must originate in the atmosphere at altitudes above at least 30 kilometers in order to escape atmospheric absorption and reach the orbiting detectors. At least a dozen such events have been detected over the past 2 years. The photon spectra from the events are very hard (peaking in the high-energy portion of the spectrum) and are consistent with bremsstrahlung emission from energetic (million—electron volt) electrons. The most likely origin of these high-energy electrons, although speculative at this time, is a rare type of high-altitude electrical discharge above thunderstorm regions.

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