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May 6 2013
Nobody knows exactly what triggers lightning bolts. Now, two Russian researchers say that these discharges of a billion volts or more could be caused by the interaction of cosmic rays—high-energy particles from outer space—with water droplets in thunderclouds.
Cosmic rays are created deep in space by powerful events such as star collisions, gamma ray bursts, and supernovae. These cataclysms accelerate charged particles—mostly protons—to very high energies. The rays zoom across space, and those that strike the upper atmosphere of Earth generate invisible but highly energetic air showers of ionized particles and electromagnetic radiatio.
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