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August 27, 2009

Lightning's Twin

And here I thought normal lightning was cool.

As it turns out, lightning has a twin above the clouds. It's known as a gigantic jet. The name is pretty accurate, too; where normal lightning fits into a 6-inch channel and travels up to around 4.5 miles, gigantic jets have multiple channels and can travel as much as 40 miles, and enter the ionosphere (which is the boundary between the atmosphere and outer space).

Because of their location, and their short duration, there are only 5 photographs of these gigantic jets. One of the most recent of these was caught nearly on accident. Steven Cummer, of Duke University in North Carolina, had equipment set up to photograph sprites, another sort of electrical discharge in the upper atmosphere. Their equipment was in just the right place at the right time, to capture a 1 second image of a gigantic jet.

This new data will be very useful as scientists study these gigantic jets more closely. Right now, very little is known about them. Scientists have no idea what types of storms or conditions are necessary to produce a gigantic jet. Cummer is planning to set up a high-speed, low-light, color camera, to attempt to capture more images of this upward lightning. This will help determine chemical process, temperature, discharge patterns, and much more. For now, we have a couple cool pictures and videos, and hopefully more are on the way.

Credit: Science Daily- Lightning's Mirror Image... Only Much Bigger