The Lightning Bolt project was a sounding rocket payload designed to study the coupling between lightning strokes during thunderstorms in the earth’s atmosphere and the particle populations in the ionosphere and magnetosphere. Lightning Bolt was carried by a Black Brant IX rocket, reaching an altitude of 300 km within 25 km horizontal distance of an active thunderstorm, and achieved high time resolution measurements of electric and magnetic fields (up to 5 MHz) and electron distribution functions (up to 1 keV with 1 ms time resolution) associated with lightning strikes in the earth’s atmosphere. The electron detector was built at the University of Washington by Drs. McCarthy, Parks, and Holzworth. The fields instruments and burst memory were built at the University of Minnesota by John Wygant, Steve Monson, and Keith Goetz.

The PI is John Wygant. The lead design engineer and project manager is Steve Monson.

The specific science goals include:

  • provide information on the structure and effects of lightning induced 1 ms transient 10-40 mV parallel electric field structures observed propagating upward in the ionosphere
  • provide measurements of the spectrum of electrons accelerated in the parallel electric field structure
  • understand the nature of the instabilities excited by the sources of free energy in the system
  • understand the magnitude and structure of the waves involved and the role they play in scattering and energizing electrons accelerated in a laminar parallel electric field structure
  • explore the possibility that the very strong parallel electric field structures generate electron beams which drive instabilities ranging up to and including Langmuir waves over sufficient time spans to allow the turbulent spectrum to evolve to a non-linear state which may include electron trapping, modulational instability, Langmuir solitons, and soliton collapse
  • produce global maps of the vector electric field and magnetic field perturbations as a function of position relative to a lightning stroke and strength of stroke.

Further Information

  • Kelley, M. C., J. G. Ding, and R. H. Holzworth, Intense ionospheric electric and magnetic field pulses generated by lightning, Geophys. Res. Lett., 17, 2221, 1990.
  • Kelley, M. C., S. D. Baker, R. H. Holzworth, P. Argo, and S. A. Cummer, LF and MF observations of the lightning electromagnetic pulse at ionospheric altitudes, Geophys. Res. Lett., 24, 1111, 1997.
  • Kelley, M. C., C. L. Siefring, R. F. Pfaff, P. M. Kintner, M. Larsen, R. Green, R. H. Holzworth, L. C. Hale, J. D. Mitchell, and D. Le Vine, Electrical measurements in the atmosphere and the ionosphere over an active thunderstorm: 1. Campaign overview and initial ionospheric results, Journ. Geophys. Res., 90, 9815, 1985.
  • Holzworth, R. H., M. C. Kelley, C. L. Siefring, L. C. Hale, and J. D. Mitchell, Electrical measurements in the atmosphere and the ionosphere over an active thunderstorm: 2. Direct current electric fields and conductivity, Journ. Geophys. Res., 90, 9824, 1985.


Lightning Bolt data hosted at University of Minnesota