For the first time ever, scientists proved that lightning strikes are powerful enough to knock out neutrons and form radioactive isotopes.
If stars are nature’s fusion reactors, then lightning is its particle accelerator. The powerful electrical and magnetic fields generated by a lightning strike emit a flash of gamma rays that burst out in all directions, colliding with atmospheric gases like a celestial game of billiards.
For years, scientists have wondered if these collisions were powerful enough to knock neutrons out of stable nuclei, creating radioactive isotopes of gases like nitrogen and oxygen. Thanks to a powerful winter thunderstorm and some well-placed radiation detectors, a team of Japanese researchers captured the first definitive proof that lightning can trigger a type of nuclear reaction. Read more.