Calculation of beams of positrons, neutrons, and protons associated with terrestrial gamma ray flashes

C. Köhn, U. Ebert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Positron beams have been observed by the Fermi satellite to be correlated with lightning leaders, and neutron emissions have been attributed to lightning and to laboratory sparks as well. Here we discuss the cross sections to be used for modeling these emissions, and we calculate the emissions of positrons, neutrons, and also protons from lightning leaders. Neutrons were first erroneously attributed to fusion reactions, but the photonuclear reaction responsible for neutrons should create protons as well. We predict them here; they have not been observed yet. In the paper, we first revisit the model for stepped lightning leaders of Xu, Celestin, and Pasko with updated cross sections, we analyze the spatial and energetic structure of the electron beam, and we calculate the spectrum of the generated gamma ray beam at 16 km altitude. Then we review the scattering processes of photons with emphasis on the processes above 5-MeV, in particular the photon energy losses in Compton scattering events and the generation of leptons and hadrons. We provide simple approximations for photon energy loss and lepton and hadron production for any photon with energy above 5-MeV passing through an arbitrary air layer. Finally, we launch a gamma ray beam with the earlier calculated spectrum of the negative stepped lightning leader from 16 km upward and calculate the production and energy of positrons, neutrons, and protons as well as the propagation of positrons. Key Points We calculate photon beams from a negative stepped lightning leader We calculate the production and energy distributions of positrons and hadrons We model the propagation of positrons through the atmosphere

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1620-1635
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research. D, Atmospheres
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2015


  • Hadron beams
  • Monte Carlo simulation
  • negative stepped lightning leader
  • positron beams
  • terrestrial gamma ray flashes


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