lightning, camera, gamma ray!

In September 2021, an unprecedented thunderstorm blew across Utah’s West Desert. Lightning from this storm produced at least six gamma ray flashes that beamed downward to Earth’s surface and activated detectors at the University of Utah-led Telescope Array. The storm was noteworthy on its own—the array usually clocks one or two of the lightning-triggered gamma rays per year—but recent upgrades led to a new observation by the Telescope Array scientists and their lightning collaborators.


“The ability of the Telescope Array Surface Detector to detect downward TGFs is a great example of serendipity in science,” said John Belz, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah and co-author of the study. “The TASD was designed to do astroparticle physics, by studying the particle showers produced by energetic atomic nuclei from deep space. Purely by happenchance, the astroparticle showers share many properties—including energy, duration, and size—with the gamma ray showers known as downward TGFs. So in a sense, we are able to operate two groundbreaking science facilities for the price of one.”

Telescope Array collaborators from the University of Utah, Loyola University Chicago, the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research at New Mexico Tech and the National Institute for Space Research-Brazil (INPE), have installed a suite of lighting instrumentation to the existing Telescope Array, a ground-based grid of surface detectors primarily designed to observe ultra-high energy cosmic rays.

Read the full article by Lisa Potter in @TheU. 

PHOTO CREDIT: RASHA ABBASI Lightning captured with the highspeed camera at 40,000 frames per second.