Properties of positive and negative leaders developing in air gaps ranging from 4 to 10 m that were subjected to 100/7,500-μs voltage impulses were examined using a two-frame, high-speed video camera with image enhancement. Abrupt extension (stepping) that culminated in a bright and structured corona streamer burst was observed for both negative (expected for the “classical” stepping process) and positive (expected for the so-called restrike process) leaders. Selected high-quality images of five negative and four positive leaders with pronounced corona streamer bursts are presented here. The morphology of corona streamer bursts was essentially independent of polarity. Streamer bursts exhibiting nearly spherical symmetry were observed. For the four positive leaders, the newly added channel sections (steps) were almost straight and had lengths ranging from about 50 to over 120 cm. For the five negative leaders, most of the steps were curved and their 2-D lengths were some tens of centimeters. It is generally thought that positive leaders in both long sparks and lightning extend continuously or exhibit optically unresolvable steps whose length is comparable to the leader tip size (1 cm or less) and that for sparks only when the absolute humidity is relatively high (>10 g/m3 or so) or voltage rise time is relatively long (around 1 ms or more) can larger steps occur. In this study, both modes of propagation for different branches of the same positive leader were observed.
Detailed infrared (2.7–5.5 μm) images of bidirectional leaders produced by the cloud of small (typical radius of 0.5 μm), positively charged water droplets are presented. The leader was composed of the downward extending positive part and the upward extending negative part, these two parts (both branched, although in different ways) being connected by the single-channel middle part. The downward extending part included the tortuous positive leader channel (similar to its upward extending counterpart observed when the cloud polarity was negative) that was often accompanied by much less tortuous but often equally bright downward extending plasma formations of unknown nature. Very faint positive streamer zone was also observed. Either the positive leader channel or the unusual plasma formation (UPF) can come in contact with the grounded plane. The upward extending part is associated with a large network of faint channels, mostly fanning out of the upper part of the usually much brighter leader channel and apparently pervading the entire upper part of the cloud. Some of those faint channels could be unusually long and bright negative streamers, while others could be similar to UPFs. The IR luminosity along the brightest part of the bidirectional leader channel is often nonuniform. Some variations in channel brightness are localized and suggest the involvement of space leader-type processes at multiple positions along the channel, changes in channel orientation, or variations in channel radius.
Detailed observations of the connection between positive and negative leaders in meter-scale electric discharges generated by clouds of negatively charged water droplets are presented, and their possible implications for the attachment process in lightning are discussed. Optical images obtained with three different high-speed cameras (visible range with image enhancement, visible-range regular, and infrared) and corresponding current recordings were used. Two snapshots of the breakthrough phase of the leader connection, showing significant leader branching inside the common streamer zone, are presented for the first time. Positive and negative leader speeds inside the common streamer zone for two events were found to be similar. Higher leader speeds were generally associated with higher leader currents. In the case of head-to-head leader connection, the infrared brightness of the junction region (probably representing the gas temperature and, hence, the energy input) was typically a factor of 5 or so higher than for channel sections either below or above that region. In 16% of cases, the downward negative leader connected to the upward positive leader below its tip (attached to the lateral surface of the positive leader), with the connection being accomplished via a channel segment that appeared to be perpendicular to one or both of the leader channels.