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No. 1: September 1977

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Lightning Superbolts Detected By Satellites

The Vela satellites carry optical sensors for the detection of terrestrial nuclear explosions. Four Vela satellites keep the entire earth under constant surveillance. In addition to nuclear explosions, these satellites register many intense lightning flashes. Some of the flashes are over 100 times more brilliant than average. Only about five of these "superbolts" occur for every 10 million flashes registered.

Superbolt flashes have relatively long durations (about one thousandth of a second) and do not appear to be confined to the upper levels of the clouds. A large fraction of the superbolts are recorded over Japan and the northeast Pacific during intense winter storms. Ground observations during these storms reveal occasional very powerful discharges of long duration from positively charged regions near the cloud tops to the ground. In contrast, typical lightning arises from negatively charged regions of clouds.

(Turman, B.N.; "Detection of Lightning Superbolts," Journal of Geophysical Research, 82:2566, 1977.)

Reference. Many of lightning's anomalies are described in Chapter GLL in our Catalog: Lightning, Auroras. For ordering information, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #1, September 1977. 1977-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987