Lightning strokes that extend upwards from the top of thunderclouds up to altitudes of 90 km can be of similar strength in terms of charge transfer as cloud-to-ground lightning strokes, suggests a study published online this week in Nature Geoscience. The lightening strokes, known as gigantic jets, are the clearest evidence of direct electrical coupling between thunderstorms and the highest layers of the Earth's atmosphere.
Steven Cummer and colleagues combined low-light video images with simultaneous low-frequency magnetic field measurements of a gigantic jet to estimate the charge transfer and polarity in the gigantic jet. The measurements confirm a negative polarity for the jet, and the researchers conclude that the charge transfer in gigantic jets can be substantially larger than observed previously.
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