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No. 3: April 1978

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Cosmic Rays May Trigger Lightning Flashes

Science has long claimed to have the explanation of lightning discharges well under control. But the discharge paths followed by lightning strokes often seem unnecessarily tortuous when more direct routes are readily available. The mechanism by which large reservoirs of unlike charges are built up is also obscure. Cosmic rays have now been pro-posed as both a source of charged particles and a provider of low-resistance ionized conduits for lightning to follow. Primary cosmic rays carry considerable energy, most of which appears near the earth's surface in the form of cascades of secondary particles that create complex ionized tracks as they penetrate the dense lower atmosphere. Lightning bolts would tend to follow these precursors along their crooked trails.

(Anonymous; "Do Cosmic Rays Trigger Lightning Discharges?" New Scientist, 77:88, 1978.)

Comment. Thunderstorm frequency has often been linked to solar activity, and cosmic rays could provide the connection. Could meteorites or "thunderbolts" do likewise?

From Science Frontiers #3, April 1978. 1978-2000 William R. Corliss