The pilots who saw it wouldn’t talk about it for
fear of ridicule or worse. The pilots whose airplanes were hit by it
wouldn’t talk about it because they were dead. Then in the early
1990s investigators began to take the rumors seriously and to look
for evidence of lightning above the clouds.
Right away they found images on archived satellite
pictures, and they recorded hundreds of flashes above distant
storms. Giant neon-light-like haloes would appear 85 kilometers
above storms. The glows would propagate downward to form red
balloons of interlaced filaments. The currents would squeeze into
30-meter-wide channels scattered over areas of a hundred square
kilometers and disappear into the clouds. The glows were so diffuse
that they seemed hardly a danger to airplanes. The investigators
named them “sprites”.
The investigators soon discovered another form of
lightning above the clouds. “Blue jets” would spout upwards from
storms as much as 15 kilometers toward space. Several giant jets
shot up to 80 kilometers. The jets were more compact than the
And under the clouds the investigators documented
extraordinary strikes of “positive” lightning. These bolts were six
times as powerful as ordinary “negative” lightning, and they lasted
ten times as long. Where ordinary lightning could punch a tiny hole
in a wing, positive lightning could burn through struts and wires
and rip pieces apart. These bolts carry forces many times greater
than what airplanes are designed to withstand. In one crash, rivets
had been melted. In another, a pipe had been crushed and twisted.
Crash specialists suspected these planes had been brought down by
strikes of positive lightning.
Investigators finally were able to correlate their
observations. They realized that every time there was a sprite above
the clouds there was a bolt of positive lightning below the clouds.
The sprite and the positive bolt were parts of a single discharge
that stretched from space to the Earth’s surface.
Sprites and jets and positive bolts are common. Now
that scientists have stopped believing that such phenomena are
impossible, they find them in old photographs. Pilots are talking
about seeing sprites since they began to fly. Certainly there is a
cultural bias: People tend to disbelieve anything that is
unfamiliar. And there is likely a sensory bias: Humans have no
sensory organs that detect electric and magnetic forces, and they
tend to believe that if they sense nothing, nothing is there.
There is also a theoretical bias: Without a theory
with which to understand an observation, we tend not even to
perceive it. Believing in a theory that already explains a
phenomenon will turn your attention away from discrepancies and
anomalies associated with that phenomenon.
Recognizing the megalightning connection between
Earth and space opens consideration of other possibilities. Perhaps
the current between Earth and space is part of a larger circuit.
Perhaps the storms don’t generate the lightning but the lightning
generates the storms. Venus, after all, has extensive lightning,
more powerful lightning than on Earth, and it has an atmosphere of
smog: Lightning in smog contradicts the thunderstorm theory of
Perhaps lightning also powers the wind. Neptune has
the strongest winds of any planet in the Solar System, yet it is
farthest from the Sun and its heat: Cold gales contradict the
thermal model of air movement. Perhaps hurricanes and tornadoes and
even dust devils are electrical vortices. Only recently have
investigators thought to look for electric fields in dust devils—and
have found quite strong ones.
Astronomers are trying to explain the spokes and
waves and movements of Saturn’s rings with the familiar theory of
gravity, but even if they succeed they will have ignored the
pervasive influence of electrical currents in the Solar System. The
explanations will be merely instrumental, accounting for the
familiar aspects but oblivious to the ground from which those
Such an instrumental theory can be a dangerous thing when it has more
practical applications: The tethered satellite experiments ignored
electricity in space and likely resulted in the sparking and burning
through of the tethers. The space elevator program will bring the
full voltage of this oversight down to Earth. And let us not forget
the image of the shuttle Columbia on its last reentry being chased
down by a bluish-red corkscrew of what may have been a bolt of
Please visit our new "Thunderblog" page
Through the initiative of managing
editor Dave Smith, we’ve begun the launch of a new
presentations of fact and opinion, with emphasis on
and the explanatory power of the Electric Universe."
new: online video page
The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe