Low Frequency Array (LOFAR)—a state-of-the-art network of thousands of radio telescopes primarily used for astronomy—tunes its antennas to thunderclouds when storms roll in and impede its normal work. This allows the tool to document that “million or so radio pulses that emanate from each lightning flash,” according to Wired, “on a meter-by-meter scale in three dimensions, and with a frame rate 200 times faster than previous instruments could achieve.” In August 2018, one momentous flash was captured with such clarity that it’s providing insight on the trigger point of lightning—something that’s long evaded scientists, despite several theories. Documentation now supports that violent collisions of ice-crystal clusters shave off electrons from one another, causing an imbalance that leads to a chain reaction among air molecules. Read the detailed scientific process at Wired, where they’ve embedded an animation of the LOFAR data.
Image courtesy of Brian Hare