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Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres


We investigate the structure of X-ray emissions from downward triggered lightning leaders using a pinhole-type X-ray camera (XCAM) located at the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing. This study builds on the work of Dwyer et al. (2011), which reported results from XCAM data from the 2010 summer lightning season. Additional details regarding the 2010 data are reported here. During the 2011 summer lightning season, the XCAM recorded 12 out of 17 leaders, 5 of which show downward leader propagation. Of those five leaders, one dart-stepped leader and two chaotic dart leaders are the focus of this paper. These three leaders displayed unique X-ray emission patterns: a chaotic dart leader displayed a diffuse structure (i.e., a wide lateral “spraying” distribution of X-rays), and a dart-stepped leader and a chaotic dart leader exhibited compact emission (i.e., a narrow lateral distribution of strong X-ray emission). These two distinct X-ray emission patterns (compact and diffuse) illustrate the variability of lightning leaders. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we show that the diffuse X-ray source must originate from a diffuse source of energetic electrons or possibly emission from several sources. The compact X-ray sources originate from compact electron sources, and the X-ray source region radius and electric charge contained within the X-ray source region were between 2 and 3 m and on the order of 10–4 C, respectively. For the leaders under investigation, the X-ray source region average currents were determined to be on the order of 102 A.

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