Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power Science

Gamma Rays From Thunderclouds 104

Posted by kdawson
from the deploy-the-tinfoil-helmets dept.
KentuckyFC sends us a report of gamma rays detected at a Japanese nuclear plant, whose origin was thunderclouds high overhead (abstract, article PDF). The theory is that showers of electrons caused by cosmic rays, when they encounter the high electric fields present in thunderstorm clouds, can be accelerated to energies above 10 MeV and result in bremsstrahlung photons detectable on the ground.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Gamma Rays From Thunderclouds

Comments Filter:
  • Just fling electrons at the blue planet where the electricity is, and see if you can hit the little dust-specks. Like billiards! Anyway, it's fun to know that each time there's a thunderstorm, and a random electron flies in from somewhere in the universe, you're getting bombarded with braking radiation. Although, considering that I'm doing experiments with X-rays in my garage, I probably shouldn't worry about that. :) also, first post (if my calculations are correct).
    • This may explain why people with solar panels experience small peaks when cloud edges first hit their panels.

      I forget what the term for it is in the Solar community (cloud edge, or something).
  • Is that five or six months down the line, the Incredible Hulk will start controlling electricity.
  • by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Sunday August 26, 2007 @01:14PM (#20363651) Homepage Journal
    Or possibly the fusion of deuterium/hydrogen in rain water by lightning?

    I actually posted an article about this back in 2005. Lightning Fusion And Other Hot News [slashdot.org]
    • So would that mean that the Z-Machine at Sandia National Labs imitates nature, or the other way around?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, fusion should produce fast neutrons, not gamma rays.
      • Not so simple (Score:5, Informative)

        by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Sunday August 26, 2007 @05:41PM (#20366009) Homepage Journal
        And neutrons will crash into other nuclei and there will be secondary fissions and fusions. Neither fission nor fusion is an entirely straight forward reaction with only one set of byproducts. Muon catalyzed fusion produces gamma rays directly.

        Our own star the Sun produces gamma rays from the PP-I fusion chain 4 1H 1 4He + 2 positrons + 2 neutrinos + 2 gamma rays The by-products provide the source of luminosity: * Positrons: anti-electrons (e+) - collide with electrons (e-) * Neutrinos: rapidly escape from the star * Gamma rays (photons): travel outwards through star interacting many times with atomic gas. Energy is also provided by the PP-II and PP-III chains
        • by deglr6328 (150198)
          mhmm. except that the mechanism provided by this study is vastly more plausable and the older paper claiming neutrons from fusion in lightning were never published in a reputable journal, let alone replicated by any one else.
        • by mako1138 (837520)
          Fusion in storm clouds would produce fast neutrons, which have a very low probability of colliding with anything. Their mean free path in normal atmosphere is huge. You wouldn't expect to be able to localize them (or their products) to a single thundercloud/storm, given the small numbers produced.
    • by Fyz (581804)
      Very funny. Get back to work!!!
    • by khallow (566160)
      Then gamma ray production should be in sync with lightning strikes. The article you cited way back when would seem to support this interpretation.
    • It is a good thing I added a lead foil hat to my tin foil one.
  • by STrinity (723872) on Sunday August 26, 2007 @01:30PM (#20363791) Homepage
    This is going to make the best James Bond movie ever.
  • I would be interested to find how often these sort of effects are observed. Getting energy levels up to 10 million electron volts is unusual in nature, with the exception of some cosmic rays. That level is higher than the binding energy of most elements. Thus, in theory, a gamma photon of such a high energy level could dislodge a neutron or possibly a proton from a nucleus. I would tend to think this sort of natural transmutation would be exceedingly rare, but it's still interesting, because it coul
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mefein (664330)
      Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes were discovered in 1994 by BATSE - a space based experiment that operated in the 90's. They are quite common (several per day). It is amazing that there are such efficient accelerators in the Earths atmosphere.

      GLAST [nasa.gov], is a new gamma-ray mission which will launch early next year and will have the capability to measure TGFs up to much higher energies -- so we will get to really understand the acceleration mechanism. Both instruments on GLAST are designed to observe the celes

  • The gamma ray observatories have to be in orbit. How is someone on the ground detecting gamma rays?
  • This is new ????? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I have chaired sessions at meetings of the American Geophysical Union where this topic was discussed - over ten years ago!

    THe Stanford radio science group is very active in modelling runaway electron acceleration such as this. In addition to gamma rays, free neutrons can also be produced.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by jddj (1085169)

      In addition to gamma rays, free neutrons can also be produced.

      If I order a couple cases, is there a shipping charge?

  • I guess that explains why my light bulbs keep popping and the batteries in my remote controls keep going flat whenever there's stormy weather.
    • by st1d (218383)
      >>>I guess that explains why my light bulbs keep popping and the batteries in my remote controls keep going flat whenever there's stormy weather.

      ***Occam's Razor Unsheathed***

      Keep them out of the drink!

      ***Occam's Razor Sheathed*** :)
  • by GISGEOLOGYGEEK (708023) on Sunday August 26, 2007 @08:46PM (#20367181)
    The story so nice, they posted it twice. ... and still only 23 comments.
  • If thunderclouds can accelerate radiation energy, how come I never heard of people died in places where there are lots of thuderstorm activities due to radiation overdose?

    Besides, even though there is no thunderstorm, cosmic rays can generate energy up to 1GeV.
    • by StrongAxe (713301) on Monday August 27, 2007 @12:32AM (#20368473)
      If thunderclouds can accelerate radiation energy, how come I never heard of people died in places where there are lots of thuderstorm activities due to radiation overdose?

      The gamma rays were only detected because they were near a nuclear power plant. Presumably such plants have very sensitive radiation detection equipment, and the number of ACTUAL gamma ray photos is sufficiently low that only very sensitive equipment could actually notice them.
      • by tenco (773732)

        Presumably such plants have very sensitive radiation detection equipment

        The scientists installed their own equipment. From TFA:

        "Installed at the rooftop of a building in this power plant, our [editor: the authors...] new automated radiation detection system has been continuously and successfully operated since 2006 December 22."

      • by sjames (1099)

        According tothe graphs in he paper, at peakthey detected 1900 photons/sec. That's a very low intensity exposure. As you summised it's only noticable to a very sensitive detector. For comparison, a 60 Watt bulb emits 10 to the 20th power photons per second. 1900/second for a few seconds won't even show up on a dosimeter much less kill someone.

    • by st1d (218383)
      >>>If thunderclouds can accelerate radiation energy, how come I never heard of people died in places where there are lots of thuderstorm activities due to radiation overdose?

      Um, lightning?
      • If thunderclouds can accelerate radiation energy, how come I never heard of people died in places where there are lots of thuderstorm activities due to radiation overdose?
        Um, lightning?

        Interesting... I wonder, how much of the electrical discharge is actually released as photons? And what exactly is the process by which they harm the things they strike, so to speak... ? For some reason, I've never actually considered the process by which lightning makes light.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ZombieWomble (893157)
      Humans are much more tolerant to (relatively) small amounts of radiation than people often think. Depending on where you live, your average yearly dose can vary by almost a factor of 1,000 - the relative dose from such events in thunderstorms is much less than this variation in background, given how little is produced by any given event.

      Also, while 1GeV is a typical cosmic ray energy, they can go much much higher. The "Oh my god" particle [wikipedia.org] had an energy of around 50 Joules. That's comprable to a well-hit te

    • by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:59AM (#20369775)
      Ionizing radiation is much like most other poisons in that dose is critical in determining subsequent health effects. You are--right now--not only being bombarded by tiny amounts of ionizing radiation from most things around you, but your body tissues themselves are releasing ionizing radiation: they contain completely natural but radioactive potassium-40. It is, however, a very, very low level of radiation.

      According to our best theories--which, to be honest, are not by any means set in stone--there is no absolutely safe lower threshold for radiation exposure IF you consider the chances for causing cancer and genetic effects. These are called "stochastic" radiation effects, because they are best described in terms of risk and probability and do not have definite thresholds. For acute radiation toxicity--vomiting, blistering, and so on--there are fairly well-defined threshold doses; these radiation sicknesses are called "deterministic" effects because we can safely say that, given a certain amount of damage, you have a certain (high) chance of acute radiation sickness. These latter effects are similar to other toxic substances, in that they are talked about in terms of doses that have some specific chance (say, 50% or 99%) of causing an effect.

      The amount of radiation-induced damage caused by the gammas released by a thunderstorm is very likely to be well below the thresholds for deterministic effecs, which means that an average person has essentially no chance of developing acute radiation sickness from a thunderstorm. Exposure to low levels of radiation may increase your chance of developing cancer, but such an increase is naturally impossible to quantify.
  • by Kythe (4779)

    The theory is that showers of electrons caused by cosmic rays, when they encounter the high electric fields present in thunderstorm clouds, can be accelerated to energies above 10 MeV and result in bremsstrahlung photons detectable on the ground.


    Sure. I was just going to say that. :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dbIII (701233)

      result in bremsstrahlung photons detectable on the ground.

      It is braking news about radiation after all.

  • Bull sh*t (Score:3, Funny)

    by riffzifnab (449869) on Sunday August 26, 2007 @10:13PM (#20367737) Journal
    I call shinanagans. If this was true there would be a whole lot more green people running around smashing things. Everyone knows that gamma rays = Hulk, its a proven scientific fact.
    • What? no, most of the time it kills you. You only get Hulkinization if the test subject is particularly moody and bottles up their emotions. These seemingly contradictory requirements are necessary conditions, though they may not be sufficient.
      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        What? no, most of the time it kills you. You only get Hulkinization if the test subject is particularly moody and bottles up their emotions. These seemingly contradictory requirements are necessary conditions, though they may not be sufficient.

        OK, so there will be no emo-Hulks. Good enough for me.

    • This is slashdot, all we have are a bunch of spideys. They too release a sticky white fluid via a wrist action.
  • Tesla coils in a rainstorm with Geiger counters.
  • by J. T. MacLeod (111094) on Sunday August 26, 2007 @10:47PM (#20367981)
    With 41 comments, I expected at least ONE Incredible Hulk reference.

    You're all very bad nerds.
    • by oPless (63249)
      You need your glasses checked!

      The post above yours has a hulk reference :-)
    • by Shadowlore (10860)
      Dude, did it take you over half an hour to compose that reply? There was at least one comment posted referencing the Hulk a full 34 minutes prior to yours. What, did you do a Google search to find something clever to come up with or something?
  • I thought this article was supposed to be about KFC coming up with a new way to cook chicken wings.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday August 27, 2007 @01:27AM (#20368639)
    A Japanese nuclear plant, cosmic rays, thunderclouds? What could possibly [wikipedia.org] go wrong?
  • the reason it is crud,

    A.) There is more than one nuclear plant in the world, and most o them get rained on at one time or another.
    B.) Nuclear plants check constantly for even the lowest levels of radiation.
    C.) Japan does not have magic special super clouds.

    If this theory were true we'd have heard about it years and years ago he first time there was a big thunderstorm at a Nuclear plant.
    • by jd (1658)
      C.) Japan does not have magic special super clouds.

      Monkey, Great Sage, equal of Heaven, may be visiting. But in that case, the cloud would be pink.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 (795185)
      I'm not sure if you're joking or not, so I'll reply anyways. From the paper:

      A.) This is regularly detected at multiple nuclear plants, but is not caused by them. It is serendipitous because the plants already the gamma-ray detectors for operational monitoring.

      B.) Superlatives like "lowest levels of radiation" are seldom meaningful in science. The detectors would have a minimum level they can reliably sense. Also, they can't determine the direction or frequency of the photons. The team that authored th
      • DOH! I was somehow connecting this with the earthquake based radiation release at a Japanese nuclear plant earlier. It sounded like this was being used as a cover to explain away the issue as an atmospheric effect rather than admit it actually happened.

        Too many Japanese nuclear plants in the news in a short amount of time I guess.

        You got to admit it's odd though. If they've been playing with this since the 20's and all, Why are they suddenly studying it in japan right after a hugely embarrassing acciden
  • by The Media Mechanic (1084283) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:26AM (#20369141)
    HOLY CRAP... BREMSSTRAHLUNG PHOTONS from frikkin BASIC FLUFFY CLOUDS IN THE SKY. What's next, some goshdarned erenkov radiation being emitted from like, Innocent Little Bunny Rabbits?! Or like, some freaking Antideuterium Particles shooting out of Very Cute Baby Kittens ??
  • when are we going to see first godzilla invasion ?
  • why until now this wasnt discovered ? radiation measurement is not something new, we are even able to map distant galaxies with radio telescopes, listen to background radiation with passive telescopes. clouds arent something new ? why did this discovery wait until now ?
  • Suspected relation (Score:5, Informative)

    by RogerWilco (99615) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:58AM (#20370085) Homepage Journal
    There is a suspected but yet unproven relation between cosmic rays and lightning. The theory is that when a cosmic particle strikes the atmophere, it ionises a path though the atmophere. This then provides a conduit for lightning.
    This is currently a hot research topic in particle physics and meteorology.

    A professor in Nijmegen and a collegue of mine are studying this phenomena (Heino Falcke and Lars Bähren)
    http://www.physorg.com/news4162.html [physorg.com]
    http://www.lofar.org/workshop/23Apr07_Monday02/LOF ARWorkshop_Apr07_HeinoFalcke.pdf [lofar.org]
    • by hughk (248126)
      Seems more likely to me. 10MeV is one heck of a potential to build up in a Thundercloud. The idea of an something external with high energy acting as a trigger seems a rather neat solution of how to get the massive flashovers that are lightning.
  • Those with a taste for good metal would have detected Gamma Ray in Japan after their album "Sigh No More" in 1992. Though I have no idea how they managed to get into a nuclear base.
  • Interesting discovery that a high-voltage, high current discharge can produce high-energy photons. Who didn't know that one? Gammas and hard X-Rays are the same thing, just differentiated by their source. X-Rays come from electron interactions and gammas from nuclear processes. Gotta figure that some electrons will be excited to higher than average energies during a lightning bolt and produce some really energetic X-Rays that will be detected as gammas. Although, I have to admit I am still much more wo
  • "If yer gonna build a quantum computer, yer gonna need some quantum memory to store qubits."

    --

    Yer also gonna need some real good smart folks whose readin' and writin' skills don't come from schoolin' they got down 'n South yonder.

    Excuse me for a while, I need to go read a few books to make up for the five minutes I spent at that redneck blog.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.

Working...