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Massive voltages in thunderclouds can slow down subatomic particles

The electric potentials that build up in thunderclouds can exceed 1.3 billion volts, about 10 times the voltages previously measured, Science News reports. Besides being the driving forces for lightning, electric potentials in thunderclouds also tend to decelerate negatively charged subatomic particles known as muons, which rain down from the upper atmosphere where they are created when cosmic rays collide with gas molecules. The new finding, based on analyses of a severe thunderstorm that occurred in southern India in December 2014 and reported in a forthcoming issue of Physical Review Letters, may help explain how strong storms can be a source of brief flashes of gamma rays, researchers say.

*Clarification, 20 March, 10:10 a.m.: To avoid confusion with astronomical processes, the description of the gamma rays generated by thunderstorms has been modified. 

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