I'm going to be brief, I just saw a Discovery Channel show that showed a lot of interesting phenomena around lightning (like elves, how cool is that(!)), and got me wondering.
1) Thinking of lightning as a purely mechanical phenomenon, I would think the elves are the "other side of the momentum balance". What I mean is this: somewhere in some cloud formation, an event happens that triggers a lightning flash. This means a ton of electrons (and other, associated particles) that start a very fast journey to the surface of the Earth. Their momentum must be balanced by particles going in the opposite direction, hence elves. Am I right?
2) Taking this further, is it possible that the "trigger" for the lightning flash could be atomic/molecular fusion forced by extremely high electrical fields, that may only exist for a nanosecond, causing a ton of energy to be transferred to the electrons around the atoms/molecules, and we have lightning. I would then think of the energy necessary to force the fusion to occur as a quantum fluctuation as in $$\Delta E \Delta t \leq \hbar$$
3) Is every arc caused by a particle collision, somewhat like in a particle accelerator? It seems logical to me: there are more than enough particles in the air to collide with, and all the light could well be some form of Brehm or Cherenkov radiation.
The question I seem to be asking is where to find good scientific theory/information about lightning. Some say we know a lot about it, but I haven't found any good papers explaining it. I have a pretty good background in physics (1st year Master student) and am not afraid of serious literature. Thanks!