Polarity asymmetry of sprite-producing lightning: A paradox?

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Abstract

[1] Sprites and halos in the mesosphere are produced electrostatically by lightning ground flashes whose polarity is positive, by a margin of at least 1000 to 1 in collected observations. The initiation of these events is controlled by the vertical charge moment change of the flash. Schumann resonance ELF methods have been used to measure the charge moments of millions of flashes worldwide. The bipolar distributions of these events show stronger positive than negative tails, consistent with the predominance of “positive” sprites, but the negative tail of supercritical events is still of the order of 10% of the total supercritical population, more than 1 order of magnitude larger than the observed fraction of “negative” sprites. This juxtaposition constitutes a paradox. The suggested resolution of the paradox is that the more impulsive population of supercritical negative flashes is producing dim halos that are not readily detected in conventional video imagery. Additional sensitive, high-resolution, and high-speed imager (<1 ms) studies of halos and their lightning parents are needed to verify this hypothesis.

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