Lightning can make fusion reactions in the air around it, according to the latest research published today in the journal Nature. Nuclear reactions were thought to occur in some thunderstorms, but the study gives the first conclusive evidence that they are happening. Teruaki Enoto, a physicist, proved it for the first time, in a paper published on Nov. 23, that lightning bolts work as organic particle accelerators. Enoto and his co-authors’ concluded for the first time speculation dating back to 1925 about this phenomenon. Back then, researchers suggested that energised, radioactive particles might zip through the repercussions and lightning flashes of a thunderstorm. Those particles release energy at precise wavelengths, which Enoto and colleagues are the first to detect.
Teruaki Enoto who leads the project explains that we already knew that thunderclouds and lightning emit gamma rays, and hypothesised that they would react in some way with the nuclei of environmental elements in the atmosphere.
When the scientists analysed the data, they found three sharp gamma-ray bursts. First was less than one millisecond in duration whereas the second was a gamma-ray afterglow that spoiled over dozens of milliseconds, and then finally, there was an elongated emission which lasted about one minute. The second afterglow was caused by lightning reacting with nitrogen in the atmosphere. The gamma rays emitted by light have enough energy to bang a neutron out of the atmospheric nitrogen, and it was the reabsorption of this neutron by particles in the atmosphere that generated the gamma-ray afterglow.
The last, prolonged emission was from the breakdown of now neutron-poor and unstable nitrogen atoms. These released positrons, which subsequently collided with electrons in annihilation events delivering gamma rays. Enoto also said that we have this idea that antimatter is something that only breathes in science fiction. Who was aware that it could be passing right above our heads on a stormy day? And we know all these thanks to our supporters who joined us through academist, and we are grateful to all.
The team continues over ten detectors on the coast of Japan, and are continually collecting data. They look forward to discoveries that may await them, and Enoto also hopes to continue seeing the participation of normal citizens in research, expanding the bounds of scientific discovery.
But it’s kinda nuts that when a thunderstorm rolls by, it’s as if the earth is operating as a temporary nuclear reactor.
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