- What are we to think about giant lightning bolts to space?
Can we think of space as neutral or empty in the face of these spectacular
- The pilots who saw it wouldn't talk about it for fear
of ridicule or worse. The pilots whose airplanes were hit by it wouldn't
talk about it because they were dead. Then in the early 1990s investigators
began to take the rumors seriously and to look for evidence of lightning
above the clouds.
- Right away they found images on archived satellite pictures,
and they recorded hundreds of flashes above distant storms. Giant neon-light-like
haloes would appear 85 kilometers above storms. The glows would propagate
downward to form red balloons of interlaced filaments. The currents would
squeeze into 30-meter-wide channels scattered over areas of a hundred square
kilometers and disappear into the clouds. The glows were so diffuse that
they seemed hardly a danger to airplanes. The investigators named them
- The investigators soon discovered another form of lightning
above the clouds. "Blue jets" would spout upwards from storms
as much as 15 kilometers toward space. Several giant jets shot up to 80
kilometers. The jets were more compact than the sprites.
- And under the clouds the investigators documented extraordinary
strikes of "positive" lightning. These bolts were six times as
powerful as ordinary "negative" lightning, and they lasted ten
times as long. Where ordinary lightning could punch a tiny hole in a wing,
positive lightning could burn through struts and wires and rip pieces apart.
These bolts carry forces many times greater than what airplanes are designed
to withstand. In one crash, rivets had been melted. In another, a pipe
had been crushed and twisted. Crash specialists suspected these planes
had been brought down by strikes of positive lightning.
- Investigators finally were able to correlate their observations.
They realized that every time there was a sprite above the clouds there
was a bolt of positive lightning below the clouds. The sprite and the positive
bolt were parts of a single discharge that stretched from space to the
- Sprites and jets and positive bolts are common. Now that
scientists have stopped believing that such phenomena are impossible, they
find them in old photographs. Pilots are talking about seeing sprites since
they began to fly. Certainly there is a cultural bias: People tend to disbelieve
anything that is unfamiliar. And there is likely a sensory bias: Humans
have no sensory organs that detect electric and magnetic forces, and they
tend to believe that if they sense nothing, nothing is there.
- There is also a theoretical bias: Without a theory with
which to understand an observation, we tend not even to perceive it. Believing
in a theory that already explains a phenomenon will turn your attention
away from discrepancies and anomalies associated with that phenomenon.
- Recognizing the megalightning connection between Earth
and space opens consideration of other possibilities. Perhaps the current
between Earth and space is part of a larger circuit. Perhaps the storms
don't generate the lightning but the lightning generates the storms. Venus,
after all, has extensive lightning, more powerful lightning than on Earth,
and it has an atmosphere of smog: Lightning in smog contradicts the thunderstorm
theory of lightning generation.
- Perhaps lightning also powers the wind. Neptune has the
strongest winds of any planet in the Solar System, yet it is farthest from
the Sun and its heat: Cold gales contradict the thermal model of air movement.
Perhaps hurricanes and tornadoes and even dust devils are electrical vortices.
Only recently have investigators thought to look for electric fields in
dust devils -- and have found quite strong ones.
- Astronomers are trying to explain the spokes and waves
and movements of Saturn's rings with the familiar theory of gravity, but
even if they succeed they will have ignored the pervasive influence of
electrical currents in the Solar System. The explanations will be merely
instrumental, accounting for the familiar aspects but oblivious to the
ground from which those aspects arise.
- Such an instrumental theory can be a dangerous thing
when it has more practical applications: The tethered satellite experiments
ignored electricity in space and likely resulted in the sparking and burning
through of the tethers. The space elevator program will bring the full
voltage of this oversight down to Earth. And let us not forget the image
of the shuttle Columbia on its last reentry being chased down by a bluish-red
corkscrew of what may have been a bolt of aircraft-destroying megalightning.
- For a review of archived TPODs on "Lightning,"