Genesis of Stratospheric Leakage of Strange Blue Lightning Revealed by the International Space Station

Dark clouds, the smell of rain on a warm sidewalk, a strong flash of light, then a loud thud, and then a low-rolling thunderstorm – who doesn’t love a good summer thunderstorm? We have all seen one, heard one, or been completely wet by one. How much do we know about this weather phenomenon?

As you can see, there are many things left to discover, such as blue planes, elves, and red spirits. These strange-sounding things are very difficult to observe from the Earth’s surface. But according to a new newspaper, Nature, the European Atmospheric-Space Interaction Development Monitor (ASIM) at the International Space Station is helping scientists find answers.

Storm seen from the space station

The storm was visible from the space station. Credit: DTU Space, ESA, NASA

Looking at the Earth’s air from the International Space Station 400 km above, ASIM’s advanced perspective sheds new light on weather phenomena and features.

A collection of optical cameras, photometers and X and gamma ray detectors was installed on the Space Station in 2018. It is designed to look for electrical discharges that start in stormy weather, extending to the upper part of the atmosphere in stormy weather.

Storm Hunter Infographics

Atmosphere-Space Interaction Monitor (ASIM) is a collection of optical cameras, photometers, and X and gamma ray detectors designed to detect electrical discharges born in stormy weather that extend to the upper atmosphere during a thunderstorm.

For the first time, ASIM’s findings were published for the ESA International Space Station experiment Nature as a front page article. The article describes five strong blue flashes at the top of a cloud, one of which creates a ‘blue jet’ in the stratosphere.

A blue jet is a form of lightning thrown upwards by lightning clouds. They can reach up to 50 km into the stratosphere and last less than a second. The space storm hunter measured five powerful 10-microsecond flashes in a cloud near a launched blue jet and the Pacific island of Naru.

Atmospheric Interaction Monitor

Atmospheric-Space Interaction Monitor (ASIM) research has been installed at the International Space Station’s Columbus External Cargo Facility (Columbus-EPF). Photo taken from a ground-based External High-Impact Camera 3 (EHDC3). Credit: NASA

The flash created equally fantastic ‘elves’. Elves rapidly expand the optical and ultraviolet emission rings at the bottom of the ionosphere. Here, electrons, radio waves, and the atmosphere interact to form these emissions.

Capturing these phenomena using ASIM’s highly sensitive instruments is critical for scientists studying terrestrial air systems. Observations hold clues as to how lightning strikes in the clouds, and researchers believe that these events could affect the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, and reiterate the importance of knowing exactly what is happening over our heads.

Astrid Orr, ASA’s Physical Sciences Coordinator for Human and Robotic Space Flight, said, “This document is an impressive highlight of the many new developments that ASIM has observed in lightning, and shows that there is still much to explore and study our universe.

“I congratulate all the scientists and university teams who are doing this, as well as the engineers who built the observatory and the ASIM support groups operating on Earth – this is a real international collaboration that leads to great discoveries.”

Reference: “Observation of the launch of the blue jet into the stratosphere” by Torsten Neubert, Olivier Chanrion, Matthias Heumesser, Krystallia Dimitriadou, Lasse Husbjerg, Ib Lundgaard Rasmussen, Nikolai Østgaard and Victor Reglero, January 20, 2021, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-020-03122-6

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