A terrestrial gamma-ray flash and ionospheric ultraviolet emissions powered by lightning

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Science  10 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6474, pp. 183-186
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax3872

Gamma-ray flash from a lightning leader

Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) are millisecond pulses of gamma rays produced by thunderstorms. Neubert et al. observed a TGF from above, using instruments on the International Space Station. High-speed photometry in optical, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma-ray bands allowed them to determine the sequence of events that produced the TGF. Emission from an intracloud lightning leader was followed within a millisecond by the TGF. The subsequent lightning flash produced an electromagnetic pulse, which induced expanding waves of ultraviolet emission in the ionosphere above the thunderstorm, called an elve. The authors conclude that high electric fields produced within the lightning leader generated the TGF.

Science, this issue p. 183


Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) are transient gamma-ray emissions from thunderstorms, generated by electrons accelerated to relativistic energies in electric fields. Elves are ultraviolet and optical emissions excited in the lower ionosphere by electromagnetic waves radiated from lightning current pulses. We observed a TGF and an associated elve using the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor on the International Space Station. The TGF occurred at the onset of a lightning current pulse that generated an elve, in the early stage of a lightning flash. Our measurements suggest that the current onset is fast and has a high amplitude—a prerequisite for elves—and that the TGF is generated in the electric fields associated with the lightning leader.

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