Relativistic electron avalanches as a thunderstorm discharge competing with lightning.

Academic Article


  • Gamma-ray 'glows' are long duration (seconds to tens of minutes) X-ray and gamma-ray emission coming from thunderclouds. Measurements suggest the presence of relativistic runaway electron avalanches (RREA), the same process underlying terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. Here we demonstrate that glows are relatively a common phenomena near the tops of thunderstorms, when compared with events such as terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. Examining the strongest glow measured by the airborne detector for energetic emissions, we show that this glow is measured near the end of a downward RREA, consistent with occurring between the upper positive charge layer and the negative screening layer above it. The glow discharges the upper positive layer by ≥9.6 mA, strong enough to be an important charging mechanism of the storm. For this glow, the gamma-ray flux observed is close to the value at which relativistic feedback processes become important, with an avalanche multiplication factor of 4,500.
  • Authors

  • Kelley, Nicole A
  • Smith, David M
  • Dwyer, Joseph
  • Splitt, Michael
  • Lazarus, Steven
  • Martinez-McKinney, Forest
  • Hazelton, Bryna
  • Grefenstette, Brian
  • Lowell, Alexander
  • Rassoul, Hamid K
  • Publication Date

  • August 12, 2015
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 26263880
  • Start Page

  • 7845
  • Volume

  • 6
  • Issue

  • 1