A team of scientists from Japan has recently confirmed that the concept of lightning known to mankind is much more beyond the basic flash of light that carries voltage. These supercharged bolts of electricity coming down from the clouds to Earth are also comprised of nuclear reactions that result in a release of antimatters all over Earth. Lightning was known to carry gamma rays as well as X-rays, but this latest research conducted by the scientists concluded that the gamma rays caused atom altering reactions similar to that of nuclear reactors.

The lead author of the study was Teruaki Enoto, a physicist at Kyoto University in Japan. Along with his team, Enoto proved for the very first time that lightning bolts function as natural particle accelerators which trigger the occurrence of nuclear reaction in the atmosphere. This hypothesis was previously speculated by scientists in the year 1925, but this study confirmed the same. The previous speculation stated that energized, radioactive particles zoom through the flashes caused during the lightning, followed by emission of energy at a certain wavelength.

During a lightning strike, the gamma rays are produced after the flash in the form of afterglow. The radioactive particles then decay in the afterglow. At this particular time, the gamma rays react with the surplus nitrogen and oxygen content in the atmosphere. As the gamma rays interact with nitrogen, neutrons are produced via the high-energy rays in the atmosphere which results in the onset of nuclear fission.

However, it is interesting to note that Nitrogen is an element with 14 stable neutrons, but upon release of these neutrons due to gamma rays, they become highly unstable radioisotopes. Now, each of these unstable isotopes causes the release of neutrino and positron which are the antimatter partner of an electron. The neutrinos vanish undetectably, but the positions have an exotic property to collide with the electrons in the atmosphere. This matter with antimatter collision causes the release of flash energy which is gamma rays having the energy of up to 0.511 mega-electron volts.

Enoto explains that they had prior knowledge regarding the thunderclouds and lightning that emit gamma rays. They even hypothesized that these elements would react in some of the other ways with the environmental components of the atmosphere. He further said, “In winter, Japan’s western coastal area is ideal for observing powerful lightning and thunderstorms. So, in 2015 we started building a series of small gamma-ray detectors, and placed them in various locations along the coast.”

The scientists at Japan recorded a large spike in the gamma-ray just after lightning struck Japan’s sea coast this year. With the help of the four detectors that were installed in Kashiwazaki city, they measured and analyzed the data that concluded that gamma rays were a major contributor to the nuclear reactions resulting from a lightning strike. This concludes that in the event of a lightning strike, the Earth becomes a nuclear reactor.

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