Energy waves sparked by lightning resonate around Earth and reveal a leaky barrier to space.
Lightning flashes some 50 times every second on Earth. These discharges release bursts of ultra-low-frequency energy that coalesce and get stronger, ultimately creating a beating pulse of electromagnetic waves around the planet. This phenomenon is called Schumann resonance, and it takes place between the ground and the lower ionosphere, a region of charged particles about 60 miles up in the atmosphere. Scientists had thought Schumann resonance was confined within the atmosphere and could only be observed from the planet's surface. Using NASA's Vector Electric Field Instrument (VEFI) aboard a U.S. Air Force satellite, scientists recently discovered that energy from the resonance sometimes leaks beyond Earth and can be detected from above, providing a new tool to analyze the chemical and physical makeup of the atmosphere. The animation shows how the electromagnetic energy from lightning gradually resonates around the planet and occasionally even reaches out into space.