We use the Low Frequency ARray (LOFAR) to probe the dynamics of the stepping process of negatively-charged plasma channels (negative leaders) in a lightning discharge. We observe that at each step of a leader, multiple pulses of VHF (30~--~80 MHz) radiation are emitted in short-duration bursts (<10 μs). This is evidence for streamer formation during corona flashes that occur with each leader step, which has not been observed before in natural lightning and it could help explain X-ray emission from lightning leaders, as X-rays from laboratory leaders tend to be associated with corona flashes. Surprisingly we find that the stepping length is very similar to what was observed near the ground, however with a stepping time that is considerably larger, which as yet is not understood. These results will help to improve lightning propagation models, and eventually lightning protection models.

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Multiscale Dynamics

Hare, B.M, Scholten, O, Dwyer, J.R, Ebert, U, Nijdam, S, Bonardi, A, … Winchen, T. (2020). Radio emission from negative lightning leader steps reveals inner meter-scale structure.