Scientists in India have just documented the most wild and record-breaking thunderstorm ever captured on record, with researchers measuring electricity of 1.3 billion volts (GV), which makes the electrical discharge an astonishing 10 times larger than anything that has so far been recorded.
As APS Physics report, scientists in India were using a completely new way of measuring thunderstorms when this particular one popped up, and used the GRAPES-3 telescope to help them measure muons. While muons are very much like electrons, they are far heavier, and analyzing them allows scientists to achieve a much more precise calculation of electricity.
While the Gamma Ray Astronomy at PeV EnergieS Phase-3 (GRAPES-3) muon telescope is normally able to capture and record 2.5 million muons per minute, during times of thunderstorms changes have been found to occur with regard to the number of muons it records. To fix this, scientists with GRAPES-3 included electric field monitors, and then found a clever way to change the fluctuations of the muons captured, and turned those into the perfect measuring tool for thunderstorms.
Michael Cherry, who analyzes high-energy cosmic rays and gamma rays at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, explained, “This muon-based technique provides a unique, albeit indirect, way to probe the electric fields in the largest natural particle accelerators on Earth — lightning and thunderstorms.”
Measuring the flux of muons during a thunderstorm reveals a record electric potential for a storm: 1.3 GV https://t.co/cBdTJRjJHm
— Physics Today (@PhysicsToday) March 15, 2019
Scientists involved in the recent research on thunderstorms extracted data from 184 thunderstorms that occurred between the years 2011 and 2014, and then focused on seven storms that appeared to have the greatest intensity. However, as six of those storms couldn’t be studied due to having a complex temporal profile, scientists focused all their energy into researching one storm, which occurred on December 1, 2014, during which scientists noticed that there was a two percent decrease in muons.
This decrease, they later found, would be equal to 1.3 billion volts of electricity. However, this does not mean that one single lightning bolt contained this amount of electricity. Instead, these volts refer to how strong the electrical field is as positively-charged water molecules get pushed to the top of the storm cloud, while ice that is negatively charged remains lower, where it would normally be.
Scientists have suggested that high-intensity storms such as these may be responsible for things like terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, along with other unexplained phenomena that is high-energy in nature.
The study where scientists in India working with the GRAPES-3 muon telescope detected a thunderstorm of 1.3 billion volts has been published in Physical Review Letters.