PHOTOS: NASA's Extreme Weather Photo Contest
The researchers suggest that as the Earth passes through the high-speed, dense solar wind streams, ionizing solar wind particles have enough energy to penetrate deep into the Earth's magnetosphere, interacting with our atmosphere.
"We propose that these particles, while not having sufficient energies to reach the ground and be detected there, nevertheless electrify the atmosphere as they collide with it, altering the electrical properties of the air and thus influencing the rate or intensity at which lightning occurs," said Scott.
This sounds reasonable as it is well known that during solar storms, when energetic solar particles interact with our atmosphere during auroral activity, huge global currents are induced through the Earth's atmosphere. A similar modification of the electric field in the lower atmosphere may also be occurring, potentially enhancing weather systems and triggering electrical storms.
"In increasing our understanding of weather on Earth we are learning more about its important links with space weather. Bringing the topics of Earth Weather and Space Weather ever closer requires more collaborations between atmospheric and space scientists, in which the University of Reading is already leading the way," added Giles Harrison, head of Reading's Department of Meteorology.