X-ray vision tracks lightning bursts

Blink and you’ve missed it. Researchers in the US have captured the world’s first X-ray images of lightning, by creating a special camera that can capture radiation at 10 million frames per second. They presented their new findings at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco and they say that this new view of lightning could help to solve some of the mysteries of this spectacular natural phenomenon.

The research was carried out at the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing, located in Florida. It is one of the few sites in world where lightning is initiated and studied under controlled conditions. By firing rockets with trailing wires into thunder clouds, scientists are able to generate electric fields that are large enough to trigger bolts of lightning, which then propagate back down towards the rocket launch tower.

Joseph Dwyer and colleagues at the Florida Institute of Technology became interested in the fact that lightning emits X-rays as it propagates through the air, a phenomenon that was only noted in the past decade. But given that X-ray sources in lightning travel through the Earth’s atmosphere at velocities approaching the speed of light, it is difficult to catch them on camera before they disappear. In addition, they cannot be imaged with standard mirrors and lenses because huge amounts of material are required to prevent X-rays and gamma rays from entering through the sides of a camera.

Dwyer’s team has created a customized camera that has 30 detectors made from a combination of sodium iodide and photomultiplier tubes, each measuring 3 × 3 inch. The device, which is approximately the size of a standard refrigerator, is also equipped with a 3 inch pinhole aperture, and can record X-rays at 10 million frames per second. “This is actually a very old technique for making images, like that seen in a camera obscura,” Dwyer says.

During July and August this year, Dwyer’s team studied four rocket-triggered lightning flashes at the Florida test site. Each flash lasted for approximately two seconds and the resulting sequences of images revealed that X-rays emerged primarily from the vicinity of the lightning tip as it propagated towards the Earth. As the lightning crashed into the control tower it also triggered large bursts of gamma radiation, which were also captured by the camera.

"For the first time we’re catching a glimpse of lightning in the X-ray emission," says Dwyer. "We’re seeing lightning as Superman would see it with his X-ray vision".

Credit: James Dacey/physicsworld.com

Posted 11 months ago with 7,048 notes
Tagged:lightningx-raysciencephysicsgamma ray

  1. poot-party reblogged this from spaceplasma
  2. bevardiva27 reblogged this from deggowaffles
  3. deggowaffles reblogged this from shutnup
  4. hinkumphinneyduster reblogged this from smithsonianmag
  5. reinadestiny reblogged this from upliftedinfo
  6. upliftedinfo reblogged this from our-aesthetic-universe
  7. our-aesthetic-universe reblogged this from spaceplasma
  8. life-can-rock reblogged this from martian-slut
  9. sarcasticamentealgarete reblogged this from corazonentumecido
  10. corazonentumecido reblogged this from spaceplasma
  11. valeriouss reblogged this from besharps
  12. domesticalien reblogged this from odmil
  13. spinneretsleftrumblephere reblogged this from elanorpam
  14. besharps reblogged this from beiringham
  15. beiringham reblogged this from spaceplasma
  16. motherboardkitten reblogged this from saccharinenostalgia
  17. saveusastraea reblogged this from n-a-s-a
  18. thisblackwitch reblogged this from cheapbrain
  19. cheapbrain reblogged this from scienceyoucanlove
  20. awesome-zoey-s-blog-world reblogged this from astrogasmic
  21. spottingmyselfinthecrowd reblogged this from gingersducksandbubbles
  22. obscurecity reblogged this from airventurer and added:
    X-ray vision tracks lightning bursts Blink and you’ve missed it. Researchers in the US have captured the world’s first...
  23. catatonicfrommiskatonic reblogged this from theorajones
  24. actualpalestinianunicorn reblogged this from tacticalnymphomania