Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Green Lantergeek

A new form of lightning dubbed "gigantic jets" was discovered only in 2001, when Dr. Victor Pasko at the Aricebo Observatory in Puerto Rico spotted one.
Think of them as sprites on steroids[, says; scroll down to "Gigantic Jets"]: Gigantic Jets are lightning-like discharges that spring from the top of thunderstorms, reaching all the way from the thunderhead to the ionosphere 50+ miles overhead. They are enormous and powerful.

You've never seen one? "Gigantic Jets are rare," explains atmospheric scientist and Jet-expert Oscar van der Velde of the Universit√© Paul Sabatier's Laboratoire d’A√©rologie in Toulouse, France.
Rare, indeed: Since Dr. Pasko's discovery,
fewer than 30 jets have been recorded - mostly over open ocean and on only two occasions over land. [Here's a report on one of those sightings.]

That's why researchers are excited by the events of Aug. 20th. On that night, amateur astronomer Richard Smedley of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, was hunting for meteors using a low light video camera when instead he caught two Gigantic Jets.
"Gigantic" is a good name for them: The storm that produced them was more than 100 miles away, in Missouri. That enabled researchers to estimate the length of the strike: something around 48 miles. Compare that to a typical cloud-to-ground strike, which may reach three or four miles.
Because they connect thunderstorms directly to the ionosphere, Gigantic Jets play some role in the global flow of electricity around our planet, but how big is that role? "No one knows," says van der Velde. "This is cutting-edge research and these photos from Oklahoma provide an exciting new case-study."
Various types of upward-striking lighting, dubbed sprites, jets, and elves, have only recently - since roughly 1990 - been recognized and seriously studied. Interestingly, it's possible they were responsible for the "UFO" sightings that supposedly every airline pilot had seen but had learned not to report.

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