The eLightning project

As one of the most spectacular natural phenomena on Earth, lightning inspires awe and wonder. Every second, about 50 lightning flashes hit some point of our planet. However, despite its appeal and prevalence, the lightning flash is one of the least understood processes in the Earth sciences.

As they descend towards ground, most lightning channels advance discontinuously. We do not know why. While it propagates, a lightning channel emits bursts of high-energy radiation. The underlying mechanism is only partially understood. Besides this radiation and perhaps related to it, electric storms also emit upward-directed Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs), detected by orbiting spacecraft hundreds of kilometers away. There are two viable theories for the origin of TGFs: we do not know how to pick the correct one.

eLightning is a scientific project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) that will look for answers to these questions by building computer models of lightning. The basic idea behind the project is to couple different models for each of the widely separated length- and time scales involved in the progression of a lightning discharge.