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Published on Oct 20, 2010
"This is a mathematical visualization of real data obtained from a lightning flash on October 20, 2009 at 19:20:03 (Universal Time) that came to ground between Socorro and Magdalena, New Mexico. The strike point is blue. Note the extensive development of the flash in the clouds before it comes to ground -- this is typical of lightning. New experimental techniques allow us to see details of lightning that were previously hidden in the clouds. The animation covers 0.15 seconds of real time. The field of view of the animation is roughly 10 miles x 10 miles.
The instrument used to gather the data is an LMA (Lightning Mapping Array), an array of radio sensors that jointly locates the region in the sky broken down by the developing lightning flash. [LMA sensors are shown in red]. This flash is the one that is closet to the LEFA (Langmuir Electric Field Array), another array which measures the electric field caused by lightning from multiple locations. [LEFA stations are black]. Used together, the LMA and LEFA allow us to visualize both the breakdown of air and the (often subsequent) flow of charge through the hot lightning channel. Better scientific understanding and measurement of lightning have resulted in better warning systems and protection for people, structures, and technology. Further, a clearer view of lightning currents in the clouds is directly relevant to understanding the global production of NOx an important family of greenhouse gasses.
This work resulted from a collaborations between students and faculty at the New Mexico Tech Physics Dept and the University of Florida Mathematics Dept. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Program on Collaboration in the Mathematical Geosciences (DMS 0724750 and 0724771).