Antimatter Lightning Discovered – A Weekend Classic

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0120a678cf8d970b-320wi Contrary to most of the gamma rays that come from the destruction of supermassive stars and other cataclysmic events far beyond the galaxy. NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope dispatched to spy high-energy gamma rays streaming from the cosmos found that not only were flashes of gamma rays strangely close to home, but they were also powerful enough to annihilate matter.

The radiation stemmed from lightning storms on Earth, according to scientists using the Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope who recorded 17 gamma ray flashes in 2009  coming from Earth that matched up with lightning tracked by the World Wide Lightning Location Network, operated out of the University of Washington in Seattle. Earlier gamma ray telescopes had detected the terrestrial gamma radiation, which was a huge surprise when it was first discovered in 1994.

Like all the most discoveries, it was unexpected. The Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope was launched to examine the universe for the stupendously powerful processes that produce gamma ray bursts, from black hole jets to the effects of dark matter itself, only to find blasts coming from behind it. From Earth.

That large storms can produce gamma rays isn't news, but the surprise – and that's "Surprise" with a capital "Antimatter Annihilating Tiny Bits Of The Atmosphere In The Most Energetic Reaction Known To Science" – was that some of the Terrestrial Gamma Flashes (TGFs) were of the exact energy level which could only be produced by positron annihilation: anti-electrons appearing, meeting and electron, and exploding.  (And you'll never see a TGiFs without thinking of how awesome science is ever again).

How can this happen?  No-one knows.  Michael Briggs, research scientist at the University of Alabama, first announced the results at the 2009 Fermi Symposium.  After that it'll be a race to see who can explain the events – if a slightly less explosive battle than you'd expect with antimatter and lightning bolts involved.

Casey Kazan with Luke McKinney.

Antimatter detected in lightning


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