Sandia LabNews

When lightning strikes

Sandia researchers break down lightning strikes into microseconds

Remote sensing personnel and geophysicists are interested in accurately characterizing lightning discharges. The lightning strike shown in the photos above was imaged on Aug. 17 in central New Mexico from a building near Sandia’s solar tower. It was one of 65 recorded in their natural environment by Mark W. Smith, Braden Smith, Michael Clemenson, and Joshua Zollweg during six weeks of observation last summer.

Data was collected at a variety of wavelengths, using a suite of sensors that included a high-speed imager and a pair of high-speed spectrometers with different spectral resolutions. Brightness increased dramatically during lightning’s so-called return stroke, when the raw electrical energy began its bounce back up into the sky (here, at T=0). Data collected on this project is expected to provide real-world validation for a lightning model being developed at Sandia.

A poster of the work was presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco in December. The project is funded by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development office.

The researchers were hosted at the solar site by Julius Yellowhair. Additional technical support was provided by Anthony Tanbakuchi, Michael Montoya, and Byron Demosthenous.