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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

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