SOCORRO, N.M., March 13, 2002 -- Mark A. Stanley, a former atmospheric physics researcher at New Mexico Tech, is one of five co-authors of a cover article on "blue jets," featured in the current issue of the prestigious British science journal Nature.
Stanley earned his Ph.D. in atmospheric physics from New Mexico Tech and, until recently, was a post-doctoral research associate at Tech's Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research.
Stanley and his research colleagues from Penn State and Stanford are the authors of "Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere," a research paper that resulted from recorded observations the research team made last year of a blue jet -- a lightning-related optical flash that sometimes occurs above thunderclouds -- from a vantage point at the LIDAR Laboratory of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
Blue jets, and the more-common, related phenomena known as "sprites," have been reported for over a century, but up until about 12 years ago, their existence had never been verified with hard scientific evidence.
The aptly named forms of electrical discharge typically last only in the range of thousandths of a second, at times stretching more than 60 miles above the Earth in their short lifespans.
Sprites typically initiate near the base of the ionosphere and develop very rapidly downward, assuming variant forms such as "columns," "carrots," and "angels"; while blue jets, which are characterized by a blue conical shape, ascend from cloud tops at
relatively slower speeds.
In the Nature paper, the particular blue jet observed by the researchers was shown to have propagated to an altitude of about 43 miles, nearly 18 miles more than "usual," and exhibited some features that up to that point had been normally associated only with sprites.
"As we observed this phenomenon above a relatively small thunderstorm cell," the authors wrote, "we speculate that it may be common and therefore represent an unaccounted for component of the global electrical circuit."
"The Nature magazine article is one of several exciting results from a short, one-month Arecibo research campaign conducted between mid-August and mid-September 2001, while I was a post-doc at New Mexico Tech," Stanley related.
"We are all excited about having an article appear in Nature," he added, "not to mention that an image of the cloud-to- ionosphere discharge, which we captured on video, also appears on the cover."
Stanley currently is a post-doctoral researcher in the Space and Atmospheric Sciences Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he continues to study lightning, using both ground- and space-based observation platforms.