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Solar wind linked to lightning activity on Earth


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, May 15, 2014, 6:42 PM - Solar wind may be linked to increased lightning activity on Earth, according a recent study.

Solar wind appears to be "doing one of two things: it’s either increasing the number of lightning strikes, or it’s increasing their intensity,”  lead author Chris Scott told Global News

Since solar activity is heavily monitored by satellites, the findings may make it easier to predict lightning strikes in the future.


RELATED: NASA spots twisters on the sun


While it's common knowledge that solar activity can cause the formation of northern lights here on Earth, this is the first paper suggesting that the sun may influence other weather patterns as well.

The study used data from the NOAA's Advanced Composition Explorer spacecraft -- which monitors solar wind -- as well as lightning records from the UK between 2000 and 2005.

It was discovered there was an average of 422 lightning strikes in a given area in the 40 days following the arrival of a high-speed solar wind -- a significant spike when compared to the 321 strikes that occurred in the 40 days preceding the arrival of the solar particles. 

Lightning strikes appear to peak 12-18 days after a solar wind arrives and it can influence activity on Earth for well over a month.


RELATED: Check out our lightning maps


"Clearly the existence of suitable weather conditions allowing thunderstorms to form is a pre-requisite for modulation of lightning," the study says, but "the data presented ... does provide evidence that, if weather conditions are suitable to generate active convection and electrified storms, lightning rates appear to be modulated by ... high-speed solar wind streams ... This, coupled with an increasing understanding of energetic particle effects on the atmosphere, makes it worthwhile pointing out the potential benefits to forecasting hazardous weather."

The complete study can be found online at IOP Science.

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