SPRITES AND BUBBLES
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Sprites observed above a storm are proposed electrified by bubbles nucleated in graupel. Electromagnetic (EM) energy produced during bubble nucleation by cavity quantum electrodynamics (QED) dissociates the water molecules on the bubble wall into hydronium H+ and hydroxyl OH- ions. In the electrical field of the storm, the H+ ions are rapidly accelerated toward the lower ionosphere, thereby providing conductive paths in the stratosphere by which the potential difference between the lower ionosphere and the earth may discharge. Sprites are observed as the red and blue corona from the breakdown of nitrogen in the discharge paths.
THEORY AND DISCUSSION
The EM energy produced in bubble nucleation by cavity QED finds its origin in the thermal kT energy of the water molecule, every molecule at ambient temperature emitting low frequency infrared (IR) radiation. Fig. 1 shows the rain droplet (a) upon supercooling and expansion (b) to produce graupel comprising large numbers of bubbles. During nucleation, the bubble wall of radius R separates from a spherical core of water molecules of radius Ro ~ 2S/P, where S is surface tension and P is atmospheric pressure. Since the bubble at the instant of core separation has a high EM resonant frequency, cavity QED momentarily suppresses the low frequency IR radiation from the core. The suppressed EM energy is promptly conserved by the release of coherent multi-IR photons that collectively combine at the bubble surface to Planck energy E ~ (Ro/R)2(Ro/D) kT, where D is the water molecule size, D ~ 0.3 nm. For S ~ 0.072 N×m-1, Ro ~ 1.44 mm. At R ~ Ro , E ~ 120 eV, which is in excess of the 4.9 eV necessary to dissociate the water molecule.
Figure 1 (a) Rain droplet (b) Supercooled Graupel – Expansion (c) Solidifying Graupel - Contraction.
Historically, Loeb in 1958 proposed that ionic charge might be separated by mechanisms whereby the charge of one sign collects in the vapor-state while the charge of the opposite sign collects in the liquid or solid-state. In a bubble, this condition is nicely satisfied for the H+ and OH- ions produced by cavity QED. Since rain has an acid pH, the bubble core and walls carry a positive background charge. Fig. 1(b) shows the hydronium H+ ions repulsed to the bubble vapor while the companion hydroxyl OH- ions are attracted to the bubble core and wall. Upon solidification, the graupel volume contracts and induces a high pressure to force the bubble vapor out of the graupel, the vapor promptly forming positive charged micro-droplets; whereas, the hydroxyl ions tend to remain behind leaving the graupel with a negative charge. Bubbles in graupel as a source of atmospheric electricity are therefore consistent with the positive charge in the micro-droplets surrounding a negative charged graupel first measured by Cheng in 1973. The micro-droplets form positive charged clouds, while the heavier graupel forms negative charged clouds as it falls to the earth.
Bubbles as the source of atmospheric electrification permit sprites to be unified with more commonly observed weather phenomena. Cloud-to-cloud lightning is the discharge of negative and positive charged clouds, while cloud-to-ground lightning is the discharge of the negative charged clouds with the positive charged earth. Sprites occur as the micro-droplets rise and sublimate at higher altitudes to hydronium vapor, the positive charged vapor accelerated upward to the lower ionosphere by the electrical field of the storm. Thus, hydronium ions from the bubbles in graupel form conductive paths in the stratosphere by which the global circuit discharges the potential difference between the lower ionosphere and the earth during a storm. Nitrogen in the conductive paths breaks down as the discharge propagates downward through the stratosphere producing the red and blue corona we have come to know as sprites.