"Super lightning" is 1,000 times brighter than normal lightning

New research data helps scientists be certain that super-lightning exists with luminosity and energy far exceeding that of ordinary lightning.

After evaluating data collected over many years, scientists confirmed that super lightning can produce at least 100 gigawatts of electricity. Meanwhile, according to the US Department of Energy, the total amount of electricity produced by all solar cells and wind turbines in the US in 2018 was about 163 gigawatts. The team also discovered super-lightning of an unusual origin. Lightning forms when the charge in the clouds comes into contact with the ground, and in most cases the cloud is negatively charged. However, superlights form during a rare interaction between the cloud and the ground, when the cloud is positively charged.

"Super lightning" is 1,000 times brighter than normal lightning
The brightest superlights are common where thunderstorms are common. (Image: Shutterstock).

Super lightning was first described as lightning more than 100 times stronger than normal lightning, according to research published in 1977 in the journal Geophysical Research. The data for that study came from observations of the Vela satellites launched in 1969 to detect nuclear explosions from space and operated until 1979. Vela’s instrument records thousands of lightning flashes each year, includes superlights around the world, and where they occur most often is the northern Pacific Ocean, BN Turman, a scientist at the Air Force Engineering Application Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, wrote in the study. .

A super lightning near South Africa in 1979 was so powerful that it is believed to have detonated an atomic bomb. Another super-light struck Newfoundland in 1978 causing damage along a mile-long area, splitting trees, twisting TV antennas, breaking transformers, circuit breakers dangling from power poles, and multiple mouths. pits appear on the background of snow. However, super lightning is extremely rare, appearing only with a rate of 0.00005%.

In two new studies jointly published November 12 in the journal Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, the researchers used satellites to observe super lightning. The study first described the brightest lightning flashes in the Americas from 2018 to 2020 using the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) sensor on the Geostationary Operating Environment Satellite (GOES-R).

“We focused on superlights that are significantly brighter than normal lightning, containing at least 100 times more energy. In some cases even 1,000 times brighter than normal lightning,” said Michael Peterson, remote sensing specialist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who led both studies, said.

In the second study, the scientists analyzed data collected between 1997 and 2010 using the Fast On-Orbit Recording of Transient Events (FORTE) satellite. Both GLM and FORTE are optical devices, but measure slightly different characteristics of lightning, according to Peterson. FORTE records the brightest moment of super lightning. Meanwhile, the GLM measures the total energy of the super lightning for a duration of 2 microseconds.

Peterson and his colleagues found that superlights can originate from electrical impulses between clouds, or from clouds to the ground. Super lightning appearing over the ocean derives its energy from the gradual charge in the thunderstorm cloud. The brightest superlights are usually concentrated in a geographic area where large thunderstorms are common and are associated with a horizontal lightning strike that stretches for hundreds of kilometers called a megaflash .