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23-04-2015 | Image: © 3 mins read

What cosmic rays tell us about thunderstorms on Earth

When Prof. Heino Falcke obtained an ERC grant to study and identify the sources of ultra-high energy cosmic rays, back in 2008, he could not imagine that his research would provide an important clue to better understand lightning and thunderclouds much closer to us. His team indeed realized that cosmic rays, originating in outer space and striking the Earth from all directions, can provide a near instantaneous 'picture' of the electric fields in clouds. The unexpected finding, to be published this week in Physical Review Letters, is the result of a fruitful collaboration between astronomers, particle physicists and geophysicists. The measurements were performed with the LOFAR radio telescope, located in the Netherlands, and partly funded by the ERC.