A novel type of transient luminous event produced by terrestrial gamma-ray flashes

Wei Xu, Sebastien Celestin, Victor P. Pasko, Robert A. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs), discovered in 1994 by the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, are high-energy photon bursts originating in the Earth's atmosphere in association with thunderstorms. In this paper, we demonstrate theoretically that, while TGFs pass through the atmosphere, the large quantities of energetic electrons knocked out by collisions between photons and air molecules generate excited species of neutral and ionized molecules, leading to a significant amount of optical emissions. These emissions represent a novel type of transient luminous events in the vicinity of the cloud tops. We show that this predicted phenomenon illuminates a region with a size notably larger than the TGF source and has detectable levels of brightness. Since the spectroscopic, morphological, and temporal features of this luminous event are closely related with TGFs, corresponding measurements would provide a novel perspective for investigation of TGFs, as well as lightning discharges that produce them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2571-2578
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 16 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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