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      Measurement of the Electrical Properties of a Thundercloud Through Muon Imaging by the GRAPES-3 Experiment


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          The GRAPES-3 muon telescope located in Ooty, India records rapid (\(\sim\)10 min) variations in the muon intensity during major thunderstorms. Out of a total of 184 thunderstorms recorded during the interval April 2011-December 2014, the one on 1 December 2014 produced a massive potential of 1.3 GV. The electric field measured by four well-separated (up to 6 km) monitors on the ground was used to help estimate some of the properties of this thundercloud including its altitude and area that were found to be 11.4 km above mean sea level (amsl) and \(\geq\)380 km\(^2\), respectively. A charging time of 6 min to reach 1.3 GV implied the delivery of a power of \(\geq\)2 GW by this thundercloud that was moving at a speed of \(\sim\)60 km h\(^{-1}\). This work possibly provides the first direct evidence for the generation of GV potentials in thunderclouds that could also possibly explain the production of highest energy (100 MeV) \(\gamma\)-rays in the terrestrial \(\gamma\)-ray flashes.

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          On the initiation of lightning in thunderclouds

          The relationship of lightning and elementary particle fluxes in the thunderclouds is not fully understood to date. Using the particle beams (the so-called Thunderstorm Ground Enhancements – TGEs) as a probe we investigate the characteristics of the interrelated atmospheric processes. The well-known effect of the TGE dynamics is the abrupt termination of the particle flux by the lightning flash. With new precise electronics, we can see that particle flux decline occurred simultaneously with the rearranging of the charge centers in the cloud. The analysis of the TGE energy spectra before and after the lightning demonstrates that the high-energy part of the TGE energy spectra disappeared just after lightning. The decline of particle flux coincides on millisecond time scale with first atmospheric discharges and we can conclude that Relativistic Runaway Electron Avalanches (RREA) in the thundercloud assist initiation of the negative cloud to ground lightning. Thus, RREA can provide enough ionization to play a significant role in the unleashing of the lightning flash.

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            23 March 2019


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            Phys. Rev. Lett. 122, 105101 (2019)
            Received 6 January 2019, Revised 21 January 2019, Published 15 March 2019
            physics.plasm-ph physics.ins-det

            Plasma physics, Technical & Applied physics


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