Mar 31, 2006
Today we are returning to our Picture of the Day one of the most
important images among the hundreds of images we have discussed in
these pages. On February 23, 2005 our topic was, "Space Shuttle
Struck by Megalightning?" The accompanying picture is seen above. It
shows the plasma trail of the shuttle Columbia on reentry about 63
kilometers above the earth, and it seems to show an electric
discharge striking the shuttle's plasma trail. For anyone
knowledgeable on the upper atmospheric electrical environment of the
Earth the question raised is all too obvious. Could this discharge
have caused the disastrous breakup of the shuttle, leading to the
death of the seven astronauts?
Shortly after we posted the story, the amateur astronomer who had
taken the picture contacted us. He insisted that we remove the
photograph. So we did.
Now we are returning the image to our published files because it is
not in the public interest that the image be ignored or
forgotten--the fate of so many uncomfortable images in the space
sciences. Perhaps, in the end, the issue of public interest will
have to be resolved by a court, and if we are instructed by a court
to remove the photograph we will do so.
In the meantime, we will stand by our present decision. NASA's
current schedule calls for the launch of the space shuttle Discovery
in July. But the organization's hasty dismissal of the picture was
simply not rational, and the decision can only underscore
astronomers' and meteorologists' general ignorance of the things
plasma science has revealed about electricity in space and in
Earth's upper atmosphere.
If there are times when issues affecting the safety of others must
take priority over all claims of "ownership", surely this is one of
those times. Therefore, we include below the text of the original
story (edited slightly to remove the name of the astronomer who took
February 23, 2005
Space Shuttle Struck by Megalightning?
It has now been more than two years since the fiery destruction of
the shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. The disaster killed all
seven astronauts on board and dealt one of the most severe blows
ever to America’s space program.
But as astronauts now prepare to ride another shuttle into space,
few Americans are aware of the most critical issue raised by the
Columbia disaster. Did a super-bolt of lightning--called "megalightning"--strike
Columbia, causing the breakup of the craft?
Shocking evidence that this is so includes the image above, taken
from the TV program "Megalightning." It shows a purplish corkscrew
trail of "something" merging with the ionized plasma trail of
Columbia early in its descent, while Columbia was still 63
kilometers above the earth. One might have expected this image to
catch the attention of media around the world. But before that could
happen, both the camera and the photograph were examined by NASA
Most shocking was the explanation given by experts who analyzed the
photograph. They said that the luminous corkscrew trail was an
"artifact" caused by a camera wobble. The explanation left critics
aghast, since the Columbia trail in the photo is crisp with no
evidence of camera movement. Nor is any wobble evident in other
similar photographs taken at the time. The explanation relegates to
"coincidence" the fact that the Columbia trail brightens precisely
at its juncture with the corkscrew trail. This brightening is an
electrically predictable occurrence when two plasma channels merge.
Proponents of the "Electric Universe" have maintained for many years
that ideology within official science has limited the ability of
working scientists to look at pictures objectively, to see what
would otherwise be obvious. Popular doctrines say that Earth is a
neutral body in the neutral environment of the Sun. When lightning
strikes, its source must lie in the mysterious ability of clouds and
temperature gradients to "separate charge." A bolt of lightning in
the rarified atmosphere 63 kilometers above the earth is unthinkable
within this framework. Therefore, the alleged lightning strike on
Columbia could not have happened.
Alternative viewpoints do not suffer from these limitations. In the
Electric Universe, our Earth is an integral part of solar system
circuitry, fed by currents streaming along our arm of the Milky Way.
An electric field between Earth’s surface and the ionosphere,
separated by an insulating layer of atmosphere, is responsible for
thunderstorms. In weather conditions favoring breakdown of this
insulation, electric currents leak through the atmospheric layer (in
the fashion of a "leaky capacitor"), creating the electrical
displays we see in thunderstorms. And this is why, far above
thunderstorms, meteorologists have discovered powerful discharges
called "red sprites" and "blue jets" reaching many kilometers into
the ionosphere. In fact, electrical interactions associated with
powerful thunderstorms have now been traced outward to the Van Allen
Since the discharge of a sprite is diffused over a large area,
meteorologists have doubted that a sprite could damage aircraft. But
here is how Wallace Thornhill, a pioneer of the Electric Universe
hypothesis, views the issue:
"The electromagnetic "pinch" effect will ensure that the energy of
that sprite will be focused onto any large electrical conductor that
blunders into its domain – as we see in the time-lapse photograph.
The brightening of Columbia’s trail where the lightning joined it is
due to the sudden release of energy in the more dense plasma of that
trail. It is that kind of energy that was released over a few square
centimeters of Columbia’s wing. Temperatures of tens of thousands of
degrees would have resulted. The Shuttle’s tiles are designed to
withstand 2900 C."
This is where Professor Edgar Bering, a physicist at the University
of Houston in Texas, comes in. He heads a team from NASA's National
Scientific Balloon Facility to study sprites by flying a
high-altitude balloon above major thunderstorms. His work, preceding
the Columbia disaster, led to some surprising conclusions about
sprites. He found that the charge released in sprites is not
generated within the clouds, but lies in the mesosphere above the
thunderstorms. And the energy is far greater than previously
But according to Thornhill, all of the data will fall into place if
the charge in the mesosphere "comes from space via the ionosphere
above," not from charge separation within the clouds below. It will
then make sense that Bering found the current released in a sprite
to be around 12,000 amperes, rather than the 3,000 amperes predicted
by conventional models of cloud-generated charge.
It does not appear, however, that NASA scientists have followed
Bering’s discovery to its logical conclusion: "None of the existing
models will survive when people finally pay attention to what our
data actually says," Bering writes.
If the fate of Columbia was indeed the result of megalightning, then
scientific misperception has cost human lives. And it is now placing
other lives at risk as well.
Read more at:
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