When Benjamin Franklin flew his kite, he showed that lightning consisted of electricity. More than 250 years later, though, we still do not know the details of how electric charges and electric fields are produced in the Earth’s atmosphere or exactly how lightning is formed. Astrophysicists looking at exotic, distant sources like black holes and neutron stars know, however, that bursts of x-rays and gamma rays are produced when electrons are accelerated to very high energies. It was a surprise, then, when astrophysicists studying the distant cosmos detected intense bursts of high energy x-rays and gamma rays from thunderstorms here on earth. I will describe these rare but very intense Terrestrial Gamma ray Flashes (TGFs) of high energy radiation from lightning and the LSU experiments to study them.
Couldn’t join us in person for LSU’s Saturday Science, a free science lecture series? Here’s the full September talk where we heard from LSU’s own Dr. David Young on Physics in Sports.