Researchers have documented a thunderstorm with the most electric potential ever recorded. The powerful storm had an electric potential of about 1.3 billion volts, which is ten times greater than the previous record-setting storm. The storm confirmed that thunderstorms are possible with several-billion-volt potentials.
The researchers say that the incredibly high voltages could explain the flashes of high-energy gamma rays that are sometimes observed in a thunderstorm. To study the structure of thunderclouds normally requires researchers to send balloons or airplanes into the center of the storms.
The catch with using aircraft or balloons to measure these storms is that both measurements are only of a small region of the storm, not the potential across the cloud. An incredibly powerful thunderstorm had an electric potential of 1.3 billion volts
The researchers probed the thunderstorm using the storm’s effect on particle detection by G3MT, which is a muon telescope in Southern India. That telescope can detect muons generated in the atmosphere by cosmic rays. These researchers have developed a quantitative method to measure the potential of thunderstorms.
The G3MT can measure muon-flux changes with 0.1% precision and distinguishes 169 discrete directions in the sky. The team hopes that their findings will solve the mystery around gamma-ray flashes coming from altitudes of tens of kilometers that have been seen by satellites since 1994. Previous measurements of thunderstorms found that there wasn’t a sufficiently large potential for the storms to create the gamma rays. The new findings show that some significant storms have the potential required.