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Science

Large Storms On Earth Are Particle Accelerators 166

Posted by timothy
from the you-bet-they-are dept.
MondoMor writes "Apparently, the atmosphere above Earth's strongest storms acts like a particle accelerator, according to a UC Santa Cruz paper. TGFs (Terrestrial Gamma ray Flashes) may occur as seldom as 50 times a day, 'but the rate could be up to 100 times higher if, as some models indicate, TGFs are emitted as narrowly focused beams that would only be detected when the satellite is directly in their path.' I'm glad the gamma-ray bursts are directed into space."
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Large Storms On Earth Are Particle Accelerators

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  • Sprites ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animaether (411575) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @07:51PM (#11731294) Journal
    I'm curious... could these be related to 'Sprites' in any way?
    http://www.ess.washington.edu/Space/AtmosElec/spri teinfo.html [washington.edu]
  • by centipetalforce (793178) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @07:57PM (#11731331)
    These gamma ray bursts are also known as red sprites, blue jets, and super lightning.
    http://images.google.com/images?q=red%20sprites [google.com]
  • Re:Good old Egon' (Score:3, Informative)

    by techno-vampire (666512) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @08:45PM (#11731579) Homepage
    You know what you'd really get if you crossed the streams? Nothing, because it can't be done. They're both of the same charge, and like charges repell. Good movie, lousy physics.
  • by zymano (581466) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @08:48PM (#11731602)
    Gamma Rays from storms [stanford.edu]
  • Re:Magnetic Field? (Score:4, Informative)

    by gnuman99 (746007) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @08:52PM (#11731630)
    You don't need a magnetic field to have a particle accelerator. An electric field is sufficient. Particle accelerators simply accelerate charged particles. You are looking at one (if you have a CRT).
  • by deglr6328 (150198) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @11:32PM (#11732801)
    The energy of the particles involved here are not particularly impressive....from a particle physics research point of view anyway. They are VERY impressive in that no natural mechanism before now has been known (on earth) to produce particle energies this high though. They are speculating that the accelerated electrons involved here are in the ~30 MeV range which is a commonly available energy range easily attained by even small medical e- accelerators (the therac 20 accidents happened with a beam of 20MeV electrons for instance) and the range is not that far above common natural beta decay energies(perhaps an order of magnitude). If you want to get to scientifically interesting energy levels these days (for particle physics research) you have to be at least in the high GeV range and for cutting edge research (the large hadron collider etc.) you need to be in the TeV range (trillion electron volts. When they say "good enough for the theorists to really test their models" they're not talking about the standard model of particle physics, they're talking about the models of particle acceleration in thunderstorms, I suspect.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 20, 2005 @11:38PM (#11732834)
    It sounds like an interesting phenomenon 35 MeV is higher gamma ray energies than I would have guessed. Maybe understanding the production mechanism can produce some insight about how some of the gamma rays from space are produced.

    However, the energies for these are FAR FAR lower than the higher gammas from space. The highest cosmic rays are thought to be 20 TeV - 10^6 times higher energy than these. The highest man made particle beams are only 1 TeV (from the Tevatron at Fermilab www.fnal.gov).

    Nobody has an explaination for how the highest energy cosmic rays are produced...
  • by deglr6328 (150198) on Sunday February 20, 2005 @11:39PM (#11732841)
    Note that while higly plausable, this connection has not been established at the current time. If I were to speculate on such things though, I would say that it is a very VERY good bet. :o)
  • Re:And to the ground (Score:3, Informative)

    by Muhammar (659468) on Monday February 21, 2005 @12:40AM (#11733203)
    there is not much gamma released in nuke explosion (except for the fission product decay), most of the initial radiation pulse is actualy X-ray and neutrons.
  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Monday February 21, 2005 @02:30AM (#11733778)
    30 MeV is impressive for a terrestrial thunderstorm, but much faster and more energetic particles and photons arrive from space. One proton (dubbed the "Oh-My-God" particle by the goofy physicists who observed it) was seen striking the upper atmosphere above Utah with a calculated energy of 320000000 TeV or 51 Joules [fourmilab.ch], the energy of a 55 mph baseball.
  • Not to Worry... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 21, 2005 @03:31AM (#11734001)
    First, about the energy: The energies of the particles (electrons) are only ~30 Mev. That's not much. Just for comparison, the Fermilab accelerator produces protons with 800 Gev (i.e., 800,000 Mev). Second, about the numbers of particles (i.e., the intensity): The article talks about 50 or so events per day. If that is 50 gamma rays, that's not very much. The Fermilab accelerator beam typically has a trillion protons in a pulse. So, it's interesting that one can get Mev energy photons at the top of thunderstorms out of elecrons being accelerated by electric fields but it isn't as big a deal on a technological scale as the article makes it seem.

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