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Joseph R. Dwyer - Weird lightning: Sprites, elves and other strange things found in our atmosphere

 Joseph R. Dwyer

Talk details

  • Date: 17 October 2021
  • Time: 1 p.m. (EDT)
  • Location: Zoom
  • All Advanced Studies Gateway events are free and open to the public
  • Video recording

Talk abstract

From the speaker:

“Lightning strikes our planet about a billion times per year, killing as many people as hurricanes or tornadoes. Surprisingly, despite its familiarity, we still don’t understand many things about lightning, including how it gets started inside thunderstorms and how it travels such large distances through air. In addition, many new and strange phenomena have been discovered in and around thunderstorms, including colossal jellyfish-like structures near the edge of space called sprites, enormous, expanding rings of light called elves, bizarre, bluish jets shooting out of cloud tops, powerful flashes of gamma rays emanating from deep inside storms, and large but nearly-invisible discharges called dark lightning. In this presentation, I will talk about the mysteries of lightning and other weird things that lightning does.“


Joseph R. Dwyer

Joseph R. Dwyer received his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago in 1994, working on cosmic-ray astrophysics. He worked as a research scientist at Columbia University and the University of Maryland before joining the faculty at the Florida Institute of Technology in 2000. Dwyer served as head of the Physics Department at Florida Tech before moving to the University of New Hampshire in 2014. He is currently a professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Hampshire, as well as the Peter T. Paul Chair in Space Sciences in the Space Science Center at the Institute for Earth, Oceans, and Space.

Over the last 20 years, Dwyer has played a leading role in establishing and advancing the field of high-energy atmospheric physics, making important contributions to our understanding of lightning physics, terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, and the x-ray emissions from lightning. His work includes both the theory and observations of energetic radiation and radio-frequency emissions from thunderstorms and lightning. He has also made contributions to understanding lightning initiation and propagation, long laboratory sparks in air, cosmic-ray physics and space physics.

Dwyer received the 2014 Karl Berger Award for distinguished achievements in the science and engineering of lightning research from the International Conference on Lightning Protection. He became a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 2019 and was chosen to give the AGU Franklin Lecture that year. His work in public outreach includes articles in Scientific American and appearances in numerous television documentaries and news articles.