Thunderstorms Create Antimatter Beams: Geeky Small-Talk Fodder from NASA

By Adrienne Crezo
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Last week, NASA announced that their Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has detected antimatter produced by thunderstorms on Earth. Though it was long suspected that lightning activity (associated with terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs) potentially created antimatter particles, this latest announcement is the first hard evidence of the phenomenon.

So, how does lightning make warp-drive fuel? Well, it’s Science:

Scientists long have suspected TGFs arise from the strong electric fields near the tops of thunderstorms. Under the right conditions, they say, the field becomes strong enough that it drives an upward avalanche of electrons. Reaching speeds nearly as fast as light, the high-energy electrons give off gamma rays when they’re deflected by air molecules. Normally, these gamma rays are detected as a TGF.

But the cascading electrons produce so many gamma rays that they blast electrons and positrons clear out of the atmosphere. This happens when the gamma-ray energy transforms into a pair of particles: an electron and a positron. It’s these particles that reach Fermi’s orbit.

The detection of positrons shows many high-energy particles are being ejected from the atmosphere. In fact, scientists now think that all TGFs emit electron/positron beams. A paper on the findings has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

Here’s a handy video, which illustrates the process in a clearer way: