'Gigantic Jet' Lightning Strikes in China; Researchers Study Mysterious Jolt

A "gigantic jet" of lightning struck over mainland China in 2010, but scientists have just recently begun to understand the rare and fascinating event. The event is named after the bolt's shape- a large cone-shaped electric jolt that resembles an aircraft in a steep nosedive.

The gigantic jet lighting was spotted over eastern China Aug. 12, 2010 at 35 degrees latitude, about 55 miles from the ground. The electrostatic discharge differs from traditional lightning in that it occurs above storm clouds; in this case, the cloud peaked at about 11 from sea level. Despite the event happening over two years ago, this is the first time researchers have documented one in the region.

"This is the first report from mainland China," Jing Yang, an atmospheric scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told OurAmazingPlanet. She and a team of researchers studied the gigantic jet with Doppler radar data and infrared weather pictures.

Although the team has not yet discovered what causes the lightning phenomenon, they believe it will help them understand the global electrical circuit more clearly, or help pilots find the risks of flying over thunderstorms.

"Gigantic jet starts from the thundercloud top and propagates upwards to the ionosphere, and it has a direct influence on the ionosphere potential and the electrical environment in the near space," researchers said in the report, which was published in the Chinese Science Bulletin. "Studies on this kind of discharge will provide an important protection for the space environment."

Yang and her team concluded that the rare lightning strike transferred tens of millions of joules between the thunderstorm and the ionosphere above the clouds. The atmospheric scientist also said that they may have seen another gigantic jet in the same area during a different thunderstorm, but reports on it are currently unconfirmed.

"It's not as clear as this one if it is a gigantic jet or not," she told OurAmazingPlanet.