The phenomenon 100 times more powerful than lightning

Researchers from the United States and Spain have made new discoveries about an atmospheric phenomenon known as the “giant jet”. The study, published in the scientific journal Science Advances last Wednesday (3), showed that the event can have an electrical charge 100 times greater than that of lightning.

According to the publication, the “giant jet” can be defined as the occasional lightning bolt that shoots “from the top of a storm and connects to the lower edge of space”.

For the research, the scientists studied a phenomenon that occurred in a thunderstorm in the state of Oklahoma, in the United States, on May 14, 2018. At the time, they analyzed that the event moved about 300 C (coulombs) of electrical charge in the ionosphere, the lower edge of space. Lightning, on the other hand, is capable of moving less than 5°C between ground and clouds or even between the clouds themselves.

The study also points out that this was the largest “giant jet” recorded so far.

“We were able to map this gigantic jet in three dimensions with high-quality data,” Levi Boggs, a researcher at the GTRI (Georgia Tech Research Institute) and corresponding author of the paper, said in a statement.

“We were able to see Very High Frequency (VHF) sources above the top of the cloud, which had not been seen before at this level of detail. Using satellite and radar data, we were able to learn where the main and very hot point of the discharge was located above the cloud.”

The research also points out that the upward discharge of the “giant jet” was able to include plasma of approximately 204 ºC, as well as structures that are called “leaders”, which can reach 2,200 ºC.

The study was carried out by professionals from the USRA (Universities Space Research Association), Texas Tech University, University of New Hampshire, Polytechnic of Catalonia, Duke University, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (Administration United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Laboratory) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Giant jets have been studied for at least two decades, but there is still no specific observation system to locate them. In this way, its detections are rare.

The Oklahoma event can only be studied because it occurred at a site where a VHF lightning mapping system already existed, within range of two weather radar and satellite sites on the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) network.

Estimates for the frequency of the phenomenon range from 1,000 to 50,000 per year. There are reports of greater presence of the phenomenon in tropical regions, but that was studied for the publication of the article was not part of any tropical storm system.

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