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Earth Science

Lightning Can Trigger Nuclear Reactions, Creating Rare Atomic Isotopes (sciencemag.org) 75

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Rare forms of atoms, like carbon-13, carbon-14, and nitrogen-15, have long been used to figure out the ages of ancient artifacts and probe the nuances of prehistoric food chains. The source of these rare isotopes? Complicated cascades of subatomic reactions in the atmosphere triggered by high-energy cosmic rays from outer space. Now, a team of scientists is adding one more isotope initiator to its list: lightning. Strong bolts of lightning can unleash the same flurry of nuclear reactions as cosmic rays, the researchers report in Nature. But, they add, the isotopes created by these storms likely constitute a small portion of all such atoms -- so the new findings are unlikely to change the way other scientists use them for dating and geotracing.
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Lightning Can Trigger Nuclear Reactions, Creating Rare Atomic Isotopes

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2154230-lightning-leaves-clouds-of-radiation-and-antimatter-in-its-wake/

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The accuracy of c-14 dating has already been firmly established (and calibrated) through the comparison of radiocarbon dates to dendrochronological (tree ring) sequences. So no, this casts no doubt on the accuracy of the technique.

  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @07:47AM (#55619665) Homepage

    The Doc told me so.

    If it's enough power to move through time, then there's enough power there to create new isotopes!

    • A typical lightning bolt lasts about 0.2 seconds and dissipates about a billion joules of energy. So 1.2 Jigawatts would be a small bolt.

      There are about 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in America per year. At a billion joules each, averaged over a year, that would be about 6 GW (or JW) of power.

  • Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @07:48AM (#55619673) Journal
    It's interesting to note these scientists have just introduced the discovery of a natural phenomenon that creates rare atomic isotopes previously associated with cosmic rays entering earth's atmosphere, and are at once certain " the isotopes created by these storms likely constitute a small portion of all such atoms."
    • It's interesting to note these scientists have just introduced the discovery of a natural phenomenon that creates rare atomic isotopes previously associated with cosmic rays entering earth's atmosphere, and are at once certain " the isotopes created by these storms likely constitute a small portion of all such atoms."

      Good point; how do they know these constitute a small proportion? Just because it has to be so, because reasons?

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        Because lightning storms don't have enough power to do this consistently at high rates elsewhere it'd be very apparent after every lightning storm that a bunch of these particles got created.

        • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Informative)

          by FatdogHaiku ( 978357 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @10:29AM (#55620125)
          Well, we're talking about roughly 1.4 billion flashes per year, and they're not evenly distributed around the planet. As to the power of each flash, I don't know how you could get good readings and keep the sensors intact... only 10 to 20 percent of the bolts reach the ground so we need disposable balloons or something to get actual voltages. Getting amperes or wattage has to be an estimate. So, now we know that rare isotopes created... but is lightning also creating common isotopes? If so, how much and what kinds? There could be WAY more going on then these first clues indicate.
          More on lightning here:
          http://www.aharfield.co.uk/lightning-protection-services/about-lightning [aharfield.co.uk]
          and here:
          https://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/where-world-does-lightning-strike-most.html [treehugger.com]
          and here:
          http://geology.com/articles/lightning-map.shtml [geology.com]
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Because the effect of cosmic rays on 14C production in the atmosphere has been directly measured [wiley.com], and while there is a measurable shortfall there, the production from lightning can't amount to very much or the amount being produced from cosmic rays would be far off the observed atmospheric concentration. There's also a good historical record of 14C concentration in the atmosphere thanks to tree rings, glacial ice cores, and corals going back thousands of years. Example [pnas.org]. Other than the mess made by 14C pr

    • I spilled a glass of water on the floor earlier today. I was "at once certain" that no one would drown in the resulting puddle.

      If by "interesting" you mean "I have a general distrust of everything ever including science" then sure, let's go with that.

      • I spilled a glass of water on the floor earlier today.

        I'm sorry for your loss, but hey, the bright side is it could've been single malt Scotch.

        If by "interesting" you mean I have a general distrust of everything ever including science" then sure, let's go with that.

        Or. If it seems "thou doth protest too much," and your defensive behavior maketh you seem suspicious, my skepticism may not be completely unwarranted.

        • and your defensive behavior maketh you seem suspicious

          This behaviour isn't defensive. It is "normal".

          By contrast your behaviour is religiously distrustful and aggressive. Maybe you should get a science degree so you can understand why your distrust is so incredibly misplaced.

  • No Comments? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by asylumx ( 881307 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @07:48AM (#55619675)
    One of the few articles that are actually related to science. Not a clickbait headline... and there are no comments. I get that real science isn't "sexy" but it'd be nice to see a discussion about what this discovery could mean. What are the wild ideas for using lightning to create this isotope? What are the new possibilities? I imagine that we'll be able to generate them artificially, so what can be done with them? IANA Physicist but there used to be some here, and their comments were always welcomed and interesting.
    • One of the few articles that are actually related to science. Not a clickbait headline... and there are no comments. I get that real science isn't "sexy" but it'd be nice to see a discussion about what this discovery could mean. What are the wild ideas for using lightning to create this isotope? What are the new possibilities? I imagine that we'll be able to generate them artificially, so what can be done with them? IANA Physicist but there used to be some here, and their comments were always welcomed and interesting.

      Certainly and hopefully these discoveries will bring more funding for high energy physics labs. Hell we might even see a revival of a Tesla like super tower and in so doing discover many new things about how energy and matter interact. For one the plasma form of ball lightning is a fascinating manifestation of lightning that begs greater study, we know very little about what it can do to matter.

      I very much look forward to seeing scientists having bad hair days again simply because they were too close to th

    • Not a clickbait headline... and there are no comments

      Holidays season. People are with their families. The few people who don't seem to have any friends are posting both critiques and distrust of science in general on Slashdot, and a few odd jobs are posting political shit.

  • by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @08:49AM (#55619857)

    With a bunch of Tritium and some lightning?

    • already known to happen with deuterium and tritium, thermonuclear reactions from lightning are cited in the footnotes of that paper.

  • Checkmate atheists! This PROVES the Earth was created by God 6000 years ago and your science is wrong! And the Earth is flat, and nobody has gone to the Moon, and the twin tower bombings was a CIA job orchestrated by the Nazis living in Antarctica.
    • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @09:39AM (#55619999)

      My money's on the nutcase who wants to use his self-made rocket to prove the earth is flat and Darwin's Survival of the Smartest, all in one shot.

      • if that nutcase suceeds with his rocket jump, he could get more chicks than a slasherdotter ever will. The horniest and most attractive more likely to pass on their genes....not the smartest.

  • Isn't this in keeping with the findings of the Miller-Urey experiment? Lightning makes things happen. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
  • ...from the another world intro
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday November 25, 2017 @12:19PM (#55620495)

    ... nature's version of a fusor [wikipedia.org].

A programming language is low level when its programs require attention to the irrelevant.

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