Thunderstorms produce beams of antimatter particles that rain into space, NASA scientists said this week, shedding more light on one of the weirdest Earth physics stories of recent memory.
Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, which are brief, powerful bursts produced inside thunderstorms, apparently produce high-speed streams of electrons and positrons that are swept up in Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists are still not sure how TGFs work or how lightning enters the equation, however.
While CERN researchers at the Large Hadron Collider continue to smash protons, create mini Big Bangs, and otherwise probe the fundamental fabrics that make up the universe, other less-publicized CERN experiments are yielding big results as well.
Whilst carrying out its normal workaday duties of scanning corners of the universe billions of light years from Earth, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope has made a discovery that hits decidedly closer to home: lightning strikes on Earth carry the signature of antimatter.
Gamma ray flashes detected in terrestrial storms were of the decaying-positron variety, indicating not only that lightning can produce the antimatter equivalent of electrons, but also that somehow the electric field normally produced by a lightning storm somehow reversed.