Streamer discharges occur in the early stages of electric breakdown of gases in lightning, as well as in plasma and high voltage technology. They are growing filaments characterized by a curved charge layer at their tip that enhances the electric field ahead of them. In this study, we analyze the effect of strong electron attachment on the propagation of positive streamers. Strong attachment occurs in insulating gases like sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) or in air at increased density. We use the classical fluid approximation with photo-ionization for streamers in ambient air, and we artificially increase the electron attachment rate where the field is below the breakdown value. This modification approximates air pressures above 1 bar at room temperature. We find that the streamer head can keep propagating even though the ionized channel loses its conductivity closely behind the head; hence, even if it is electrically isolated. We describe how, depending on the attachment rate, the streamer propagation in a constant electric field can be accelerating, uniformly translating, or stagnating.

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Plasma Sources Science and Technology
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Francisco, H., Bagheri, B., & Ebert, U. (2021). Electrically isolated propagating streamer heads formed by strong electron attachment. Plasma Sources Science and Technology, 30(2). doi:10.1088/1361-6595/abdaa3