The Natural Particle Accelerator on Earth

By Anupum Pant

Dark Lightning might sound like a science fiction oxymoron, but it is real. NASA’s fermi gamma ray space telescope, launched back in the year 2008. It’s mission was to study high energy bursts coming from far away places in the universe. However, soon the telescope picked up something no one had expected. It detected positrons, anti-matter equivalent of electrons originating from earth.

Lightning expert Joseph Dwyer from Florida institute of technology explained that it was only a tiny beam of anti-matter burst that the telescope detected. Extrapolation of that data indicated that about 100 trillion positrons were sent off by a thunderstorm. It wasn’t very clear what was producing antimatter and sending it to space.

Scientists answer was that dark lightning was causing this. According to them, hi speed electrons colliding with the air produce gamma rays. These rays then transform into a pair of matter and antimatter – Electron and positrons. And a nuclear fission like feedback loop starts. This can’t be seen by us. Telescopes in the sky have been recording gamma ray flashes since the 1990s and the Fermi had next detected positrons.

And recently when Dwyer’s plane accidentally entered a thunderstorm, their equipment in the plane detected antimatter. This time, it was such that the phenomenon couldn’t be explained by any known theory. Insides of thunderstorms which have been very energetic areas in our own planet haven’t been explored before. Now its time to send those balloons equipped with detectors to learn more, they say. [Nature]

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