Record-Breaking Thunderstorm Voltage

Muons reveal record-breaking thunderstorm voltage in India that exceeded one billion volts.

Scientists have just measured a thunderstorm probed with atmospheric muons, particles that are similar to electrons but heavier, with electric potential exceeding one billion volts, which is much higher than previously measured values.



Above, Lightning display over Florida.  Image credit Mike Killian

They operate the Gamma Ray Astronomy at PeV EnergieS Phase-3 (GRAPES-3) telescope, that measures high-energy particles from space, called cosmic rays.

A charging time of 6 min to reach 1.3 GV implied the delivery of a power of ≥2  GW by this thundercloud that was moving at a speed of ∼60  km h−1. This work possibly provides the first direct evidence for the generation of gigavolt potentials in thunderclouds that could also possibly explain the production of highest-energy (100 MeV) gamma rays in the terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.

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