Using a custom-built camera the size of a refrigerator, Florida researchers have made the world s first crude pictures of X-rays streaming from a stroke of lightning

It might look like an homage to the iconic 80s gameshow Blockbusters hosted by Bob Holness.  But this crude image is actually the world’s first picture of X-rays streaming from a bolt of lightning.


It has long been known that lightning might produce X-rays but this is this first time they have been captured on camera.

The picture could help scientists better understand what causes lightning and predict its behaviour.

The grainy images were taken by Joseph Dwyer, a physics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. He said: ‘This is actually sort of what Superman would see. Superman has X-ray vision.’

He added: ‘We understand how a star explodes halfway across the universe better than we understand the lightning right above our heads.’

The picture was taken with a huge camera fitted with 30 radiation detectors combined with software that turns voltage measurements into images.

Each detector contributes data to the picture, so the result looks like a photo with only 30 pixels.

Lightning occurs when a negative charge builds within a cloud and then is released downward, connecting with a positive charge. Once that connection is made the bolt of lightning discharges and we get the flash of colour we are familiar with.

But scientists still not completely understand how that spark begins as electrical fields that have been measured in clouds seem too small account for it. And they do not yet understand  whether X-rays actually play a role in how a lightning bolt forms and travels.


Rocket-triggered lightning allows scientists to measure the properties of this bolt

Dwyer said: You can see the X-ray source descending. You start to see the air glow in X-rays.’

Dwyer took the pictures in July and August in collaboration with a team from the University of Florida at the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing.

His group spend their time intentionally triggering lightning strikes by firing rockets attached to a trailing copper wire up into a thunderstorm.

This year the group made a series of pictures of four different lightning strikes, and recorded both X-rays and higher energy gamma rays from each.

Having even such low resolution pictures ‘is a big step forward,’ Steven A. Cummer, a Duke University professor told Inside Science.

‘Showing in the images exactly where the X-rays are coming from and when is significant,’ he said.

Via Daily Mail