Gigantic jets of lightning, 100 times stronger than normal bolts, are surging into space

The discharge also consisted of streamers of plasma at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius). Researchers consider them relatively cool since the discharge also contains very hot structures called leaders whose temperatures exceed 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit (4,426 degrees Celsius).

How do scientists study such discharges?

Gigantic jets have been observed and studied for over two decades. However, there is no specific observing system designed to look for them. The Oklahoma event of 2018 was captured by a citizen-scientist who was operating a low-light camera in the area.

Levi Boggs, a research scientist at the GTRI, learned from a colleague that the event had been captured. This provided the researcher with additional information about the location, which was luckily found to be near a Very High Frequency (VHF) lightning mapping system as well as within the range of two Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD).

After finding that the information was also accessible to instruments on satellites from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Boggs set up a multi-organization research team to find out more about the historic lightning bursts.

What did the research team find?

The data showed that the discharge ascended from the cloud top at altitudes of 13-18 miles (22-45 km), while optical emissions occurred at altitudes of 9-12 miles (15-20 km).

“We were able to map this gigantic jet in three dimensions with really high-quality data,” said Boggs. “We were able to see very high frequency (VHF) sources above the cloud top, which had not been seen before with this level of detail. Using satellite and radar data, we were able to learn where the very hot leader portion of the discharge was located above the cloud.”

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