On runaway breakdown and upward propagating discharges


  • R. Roussel-Dupré,

  • A. V. Gurevich


The origins of mysterious γ ray and radio flashes recently detected by satellite-based instruments passing over thunderstorms are examined in the context of upward propagating discharges initiated by runaway air breakdown. Preliminary calculations normalized by the recent optical measurements of so-called sprites indicate that the runaway mechanism may well be the source of these emissions. If this is true, then upward discharges represent the first known manifestation of a fundamental, new process in plasma physics.