Antimatter caught streaming from thunderstorms on Earth

A space telescope has accidentally spotted thunderstorms on Earth producing beams of antimatter.

Such storms have long been known to give rise to fleeting sparks of light called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.

But results from the Fermi telescope show they also give out streams of electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons.

The surprise result was presented by researchers at the American Astronomical Society meeting in the US.

It deepens a mystery about terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs – sparks of light that are estimated to occur 500 times a day in thunderstorms on Earth. They are a complex interplay of light and matter whose origin is poorly understood.

Thunderstorms are known to create tremendously high electric fields – evidenced by lightning strikes.

Electrons in storm regions are accelerated by the fields, reaching speeds near that of light and emitting high-energy light rays – gamma rays – as they are deflected by atoms and molecules they encounter.

These flashes are intense – for a thousandth of a second, they can produce as many charged particles from one flash as are passing through the entire Earth’s atmosphere from all other processes.

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