Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:October 2nd, 2013 11:54 EST

HAMMA Device to Catch Lightning Strikes?

By Ron G Anselm

Not knowing everything there is to know about Mother Nature could one day prove to be a disaster for you if you ever get caught in a freak thunderstorm with no where to run for cover "

What do you do if you are ever out in the middle of your cornfield sowing your crop and all of a sudden you look to the West and see an approaching thunderstorm with more force behind it than a Mark Roth Bowling ball connecting with the one, three pin on the many past tournaments of the Professional Bowlers Tour.

If anyone has never bowled or you are not familiar with the past legends of the sport, Mark Roth would throw his bowling ball with so much spin and force (Drive) behind it the ten pins sitting at the other end of the bowling lane would literally freak has his ball would hit the one, three pin and shatter everything in its path for a strike.

The same is true for an approaching thunderstorm as we either are lucky enough to be sitting in the comforts of our living room watching it through the front window of our snug home or you are very unlucky and are in the middle of nowhere and try to run from the force of the storm which normally if anyone has ever been in a Mid-Western or Southern thunderstorm know that these high-energy and particle charged forces of mother nature spit more lightening out than a baseball player with a cheek full of Red Man spits out chewing tobacco.

And that really is the main danger of any thunderstorm wherever you are in the world is lightning. I think the most powerful bolt of lightning I have ever seen and been a part of was when I was stationed in the Army at Fort Riley, Kansas. Kansas is the main definition of powerful storms that I used to call nuclear wars when they hit because that`s how powerful they were.

I was playing softball on my units Battalion softball team and we were out practicing about a mile or so from the barracks. One of these freak storms suddenly popped up and of course we all headed for cover. I think I ran the four-forty again in 4.2 seconds sprinting back to the barracks. As I just barely reached the door of the barracks, I felt my hair stand straight up and I dove inside the door just getting missed by a bolt that must have come from the next state over. It must have been about four-hundred miles long and coming of course at the speed of light. I hit the floor inside the barracks as if I was ducking for cover during an ambush and luckily the building had a ton of lightning rods on the roof because that bolt went from hitting me to the roof. The sound when the bolt hit the lightning rod on the roof was like sitting next to an M1A1 Abrahams tank on the tank firing range as the massive gun fires another powerful round out of its long canon. I felt the power of Mother Nature that day and I think if it wasn`t for a higher power I would not be here today.

Now scientists are getting into the realms of learning more about this phenomenon known as lightning. We have lived with it from childhood to adulthood. As kids, we were perplexed by it, would cover our heads with our blankets at night when we would suddenly be woken up by a middle of the night storm that would scare the pegeeses out of us and at the same time would fascinate us with the beauty and power of it.

Scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have developed a device that gives them basically a front row seat to lightning strikes. This device gives scientist the needed information to help them learn how lightning is spawned in clouds. This will potentially help science in general in determining lightning strikes from beginning to end and help scientists to be able to predict severe weather more accurately.

The name of the device is the Huntsville Alabama Marx Meter Array (HAMMA) sensor. It literally sits under a large metal bowl shaped like your normal dinner salad bowl which helps protect the electronic instruments within it from rain. This instrument was upgraded recently from the past version of it which was developed in the 1950s. It detects radiated electric fields in the atmosphere when any bolt of lightning strikes.

Dr. Phillip Bitzer who is an assistant professor of atmospheric science, co-developer of the HAMMA device and the lead author of the study, commented on this by saying, "We take the lightning induced change in the electric field and it`s converted to a voltage reading by our equipment and that`s transmitted to our computer." (Bitzer, P.)

The mechanics of this device work like this, the data obtained from a network of HAMMA sensors to the computer generate maps showing the intensity and distribution of any lightning strike. Operating in the very low frequency (VLF) spectrum, HAMMA can detect both the intensity and duration of a bolt, called its energetics, and provide scientists with more information than previous mapping array instruments, which usually operate in the very high frequency (VHF) spectrum.(Science daily)

VHF equipment can better detect the smaller discharge processes from any lightning strike while at the same time the VLF HAMMA device can read large discharges that are associated the processes known as the energetic processes. In sciences this is known as bright return and Phillip Bitzer went on to comment on this, "The combination of VLF and VHF measurements may tell us a whole lot more about what is going on in the flash than either one by itself." (Bitzer, P.)

The process by HAMMA could also give scientists better knowledge and understanding of how exactly a lightning bolt gets started in any storm which is also known in science as initiation. Bitzer shed a little insight on initiation by saying, "We really don`t know how initiation works. One of the big unanswered questions of lightning research is initiation, and that`s one we are interested in. We`re trying to get a handle on how lightning starts. How does all of this work?" (Bitzer, P.)

What scientists do know about how lightning starts is the cause by a buildup of positive and negative electrical charges inside a cloud. Within the cloud what is known as an embryonic version of hail moves around and collides with ice crystal within the cloud. The collision of the two elements causes to graupel which causes a negative charge and the ice crystal do the opposite by causing a positive charge. After this happens, the two elements separate within a thunderstorm`s updraft which produces the electrical field which is necessary to produce a bolt of lightning. But scientists have never really measured an electric field which is sufficiently strong enough to itself to be able to produce a bolt of lightning.

Scientists are still trying to completely piece together every element from start to finish trying to figure out how the initiation process really does work. One of the theories out their still waiting for a concrete hypothesis is the electric field is locally enhanced by the hydrometeors in the cloud, thus enabling lightning to initiate. A competing theory suggests that cosmic rays bombarding Earth from outer space initiate lightning by introducing high-energy electrons that begin the cascade leading to a strike. HAMMA now gives researchers a front-row seat to the processes going on at initiation. (Science daily)

Bitzer went on to comment, "What we`re able to detect is the initiation of the lightning, which is typically about 30 milliseconds ahead of the lightning stroke. " (Bitzer, P.)

Since a bolt of lightning starts from the ground up not from the cloud down, this is the point of a lightning strike when the bolt of lightning sends down what is known as electric leaders " that meet with the ascending leaders from Earth which helps to form the route or pathway the bolt of lightning follows.

Bitzer went on to comment, "One thing we`ve been able to show is that using VLF measurements in a network like HAMMA can give us a better idea of the location of different-scale processes that occur during initiation. In addition, you are able to estimate the strength of a flash." (Bitzer, P.)

The Tao of lightning can either be fascinating, terrifying, beautiful, but we all know it is definitely mysterious. The one thing is it can also be dangerous so learn all you can about it and let science fill in the blanks on learning how this bright and big electrical charge that is the lifeblood of any thunderstorm really works.

                                                             Reference

Science Daily, Device Gives Scientists Front-Row Seat to Lightning Strikes, (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130910093356.htm) Retrieved 2013.

My latest book, Our Grand Ol` National Past Time " A Brief History of Major League Baseball is available for ordering. Go to (ronanselm.tateauthor.com) or (http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/) and is also available now on amazon.com, Books-A-Million website and on other multiple websites to order your copy today. It`s not just for the sports and baseball fans it`s for anyone who loves books and loves to read.