Here’s lightning flowing 40 miles up from the top of a storm, to touch the ionosphere. The photos of this phenomenon, called gigantic jets, were taken by Duke University engineer Steve Cummer.
“Gigantic jets are literally lightning that comes out of the thunderclouds, but instead of going down, like most lightning strokes do, these apparently find their way out the tops of thunderclouds, and then keep going and keep going and keep going until they run into something that stops them,” Cummer explained.
“…What struck us was the size of this event.”
It appears from the measurements that the amount of electricity discharged by conventional lightning and gigantic jets is comparable, Cummer said.
But the gigantic jets travel farther and faster than conventional lightning because thinner air between the clouds and ionosphere provides less resistance.
The team was actually looking for sprites, “electrical discharges that occur above storm clouds and are colored red or blue, with jellyfish-like tendrils hanging down.”
Spectacle aside, studying the jets could lead to new ways to predict storms. And if nothing else, it’s something for writers to think about when they design their alien atmospheres.