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A new class of electric discharges in clouds of negatively charged water droplets

Kostinskiy A., Mareev E., Bogatov N., Syssoev V., Andreev M., Sukharevsky D., Bulatov M., Rakov V.

We have observed unusual plasma formations (UPFs) in artificial clouds of charged water droplets using a high-speed infrared camera operating in conjunction with a high-speed visible-range camera. Inferred plasma parameters were close to those of long-spark leaders observed in the same experiments, while the channel morphology was distinctly different from that of leaders, so that UPFs can be viewed as a new type of in-cloud discharge. These formations can occur in the absence of spark leaders and appear to be manifestations of collective processes building, essentially from scratch, a complex hierarchical network of interacting channels at different stages of development (some of which are hot and live for milliseconds). We believe that the phenomenon should commonly occur in thunderclouds and might give insights on the missing link in the still poorly understood lightning initiation process.