Utah scientists look to uncover mystery of lightning

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Data collected from a remote high-desert lab in Utah could help scientists learn more about the origin of lightning.

The Telescope Array Lightning Project in Millard County is the first to detect the downward flashes at the beginning of cloud-to-ground lightning and to show where they originated in thunderstorms.

Instruments for the project recorded bursts of gamma ray flashes produced in the first milliseconds of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, the Deseret News reported .

The showers, called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, were documented 10 times between 2014 and 2016.

John Belz, professor of physics at the University of Utah and principal investigator with the project, said scientists may actually learn something about the origin of lightning from the research.

The Telescope Array Surface Detector where this work unfolded is a 300-square-mile (777-square-kilometer) cosmic ray observatory. It features 507 scintillator detectors, or high-energy particle detectors.

The area in Millard County was selected for its flat terrain, low humidity, dark night skies and proximity to the University of Utah — considered by some as the leading research institution in the arena of high-energy cosmic rays, possessing the world’s largest data set.

The study of cosmic ray showers and how they propagate through space before arriving on Earth is expected to assist scientists in their attempts to unravel the evolution of the universe.

The Telescope Array Lightning Project is designed to study particles from other galaxies and the effects of violent astrophysical events millions of light years away, Belz said.


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