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Lightning could be a much more important atmospheric cleanser than previously thought, according to a new analysis of historical measurements gathered from a storm-chasing airplane back in 2012 – data which were originally thought to be inaccurate.

While some of the air-scrubbing qualities of lightning bolts are already well understood – in particular the creation of nitric oxide and hydroxide that can flush out various greenhouse gases from the sky – there's a lot more going on here, according to the new research.

It appears that both lightning bolts and the weaker, invisible electrical charges around them can produce the pollutant-catching oxidants hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (HO2), which can also remove gases such as methane and carbon monoxide from the atmosphere.

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