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Geophysical Research Letters


X-ray and electric field measurements were made during five nearby negative natural lightning strikes in north central Florida during the summer of 2004. The observed X-ray emission typically was detected ∼1 ms before the first return stroke, during the stepped-leader phase, and had energies extending up to a few hundred keV. The X rays were produced in discrete, intense bursts emitted in coincidence with the formation of the leader steps, demonstrating unambiguously that the source of lightning X rays is closely related to the stepping process. The X-ray emission from lightning stepped leaders is found to be remarkably similar to that from lightning dart leaders, suggesting that these different types of leaders share a common mechanism. The reported observations have important implications for understanding how runaway breakdown occurs and how lightning leaders propagate.



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