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Photonuclear reactions triggered by lightning discharge

Enoto, Teruaki*; Wada, Yuki*; Furuta, Yoshihiro*; Nakazawa, Kazuhiro*; Yuasa, Takayuki*; Okuda, Kazufumi*; Makishima, Kazuo*; Sato, Mitsuteru*; Sato, Yosuke*; Nakano, Toshio*; Umemoto, Daigo*; Tsuchiya, Harufumi

Relativistic electrons accelerated by electric fields of lightnings and thunderclouds emit bremsstrahlung $$gamma$$ rays, which have been detected at ground observations. The energy of the $$gamma$$ rays is sufficiently high to potentially invoke atmospheric photonuclear reactions $$^{14}$$N($$gamma$$, n)$$^{13}$$N, which would produce neutrons and eventually positrons via $$beta^{+}$$ decay of generated unstable radioactive isotopes, especially $$^{13}$$N. However, no clear observational evidence for the reaction has been reported to date. Here we report the first detection of neutron and positron signals from lightning with a ground observation. During a thunderstorm on 6 February 2017 in Japan, an intense $$gamma$$-ray flash ($$<$$1 ms) was detected at our monitoring sites. The subsequent initial burst quickly subsided with an exponential decay constant of 40-60 ms, followed by a prolonged line emission at $$sim$$0.511MeV, lasting for a minute. The observed decay timescale and spectral cutoff at $$sim$$10 MeV of the initial emission are well explained with de-excitation $$gamma$$ rays from the nuclei excited by neutron capture. The centre energy of the prolonged line emission corresponds to the electron-positron annihilation, and hence is the conclusive indication of positrons produced after the lightning. Our detection of neutrons and positrons is unequivocal evidence that natural lightning triggers photonuclear reactions.

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