Plasmas in planetary atmospheres

The investigations carried out in this line are connected with Atmospheric Electricity with special focus on transient plasmas and electric discharges that occur within planetary atmospheres of terrestrial planets (Venus, Earth and Mars) and gaseous giants (Jupiter and Saturn).

Our research is presently focusses on fundamental studies about lightning in the Earth atmosphere and on lightning-induced Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) such as Sprites, Halos and Blue Jets that frequently take place in the Earth mesosphere and stratosphere. We also investigate about the possible local and global effects of TLEs in the electrical and chemical properties of the Earth atmosphere. These research themes are funded by projects granted in the frame of regional, national and UE (H2020 program) calls.

The group research on lightning physics has been boosted by the recent award to one of the group members, Alejandro Luque, of a prestigious "ERC Consolidator Grant" (call of 2015) devoted to fundamental studies - based on a computational approach - to understand the mechanisms underlying (i) the onset and dynamics of lightning in the atmosphere of the Earth and (ii) the emission by lightning of high energy (X and gamma or Transient Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs)) pulses of electromagnetic radiation. In addition to the ERC Consolidator project, computational studies on lightning dynamics are also funded by national projects since 2015.

In order to get our goals, we follow two approaches. On the one side, we use and develop models to study the atmospheric kinetics and electrodynamics of lightning, TLEs and TGFs and, on the other, we develop instrumentation, in collaboration with the Instrumental and Technological Unit (UDIT) of the IAA, to measure properties of lightning and TLEs properties that can be compared with our model predictions. The group instrument GRASSP (GRanada Sprite Spectrograph and Polarimeter) is operative since 2013 and a new high speed lightning spectrograph is now being designed.

The group is also involved in space missions (ASIM of ESA, TARANIS of CNES) and missions with stratospheric balloons (ORISON of H2020) aimed at studying atmospheric electricity from the space and upper atmosphere of the Earth.

The group on Transient Plasmas in Planetary Atmospheres (TRAPPA) is a relatively young research group (it was created at the end of 2008) presently (Nov 2016) formed by seven members, two of whom are research engineers.