Ooty-Based Indian Lab Succeeded Measuring The Most Powerful Thunderstorm

Harin - Mar 24, 2019

Ooty-Based Indian Lab Succeeded Measuring The Most Powerful Thunderstorm

Ooty-based Cosmic Ray Laboratory announced its phenomenal discovery on the production of an unimaginably high voltage in a thunderstorm.

Some people are often scared of being trapped in a thunderstorm, with the air flowing with energy that could potentially fry you. We have always known that they produce free neutrons, gamma rays, and other things, but we do not actually know how they produce these matters, until now.

A team consists of Indian and Japanese researchers has been carried out research on thunderstorms. Now, with the assistance and leading of the Cosmic Ray Laboratory (CRL) from the Tata Insititute Fundamental Research in Ooty, they have achieved a breakthrough.

A telescope named GRAPES-3 has been used for the measurement of microscopic particles floating in the air. Muons are a kind of particles that are similar to the positron and electron but heavier. They are created when the atmosphere is hit by gamma rays.

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GRAPES-3 Muon Telescope at CRL in Ooty

The researchers detected that every time that a thunderstorm appeared, the readings of their telescope would become distorted. So they decided to look into this phenomenon by setting up electric field monitors at several distances surrounding the observatory. By doing this, the intensity of the electric field that passed overhead at each location could be measured.

Most of the time, these storms produced a lot of complicated data. However, in Dec 2014, a huge storm having a slightly simpler electric charge distribution appeared. Taking this as an opportunity, the team utilized their data to measure the thunderstorm’s electric potential.

A storm’s electric potential is the amount of work required to transfer its electrons from this part of a cloud to another. Due to thunderstorms’ inherent electrical activity, they cause muons to lose energy, which makes it challenging for muon detectors to assess them.

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The researchers succeeded in pinpointing the electrical potential of the storm by observing the muons’ changing detection levels and comparing it with the electrical activity happening outside.

The result from the team’s simulator suggested that the potential of the 2014 storm is at a 1.3 billion Volts. To better understand how big this number is, in the previous record, which was measured with a weather balloon, was at 0.13 GV, around ten times smaller.

It is still uncertain whether this discovery can be used without muons detection. Even if it is not possible, it is still a remarkable achievement for an Indian lab to unfold the mysteries hidden in the thunderclouds.


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