Research NewsAtmospheric Research

Lofty Flashes Come Down to Earth

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Science  13 Oct 1995:
Vol. 270, Issue 5234, pp. 235
DOI: 10.1126/science.270.5234.235


Mystery solved? Two teams of physicists believe they have fingered the source of puzzling flashes that can sometimes be seen in the atmosphere high above giant thunderclouds. The culprit: molecular nitrogen excited by electron collisions. Lightning strokes power the whole process, they believe, by sending pulses of energy into the upper atmosphere and causing slower changes in the atmosphere's electric field.