A space window to electrifying science

ISS – International Space Station patch.

26 March 2018

Lightning triggers powerful electrical bursts in Earth’s atmosphere almost every second. The inner workings of these magnificent forces of nature are still unknown, but a rare observation by an ESA astronaut gave a boost to the science community. A European detector will take on the challenge of hunting for thunderstorms from space next week.

Red sprites and blue jets

As he flew over India at 28 800 km/h on the International Space Station in 2015, astronaut Andreas Mogensen directed a high-resolution camera towards a gigantic thunderstorm. He caught a blue jet repeatedly shooting up into space towards the upper layers of the atmosphere – as high as 40 km.

The spectacular footage was the first of its kind. His discovery of a pulsating jet gave a new perspective on the electrical activity at the top of tropical thunderstorms. Scientists began to learn what types of cloud trigger such phenomena, and how they may affect the chemistry of the atmosphere.


Thunderstruck Earth

The solid scientific results gathered a lot of attention and confirmed the Space Station as a great vantage point 400 km above the clouds. Apart from covering all the main thunderstorm regions, it is the space platform that brings instruments closest to the electric events.

Back to space

A sophisticated monitor designed to look for electrical discharges born in stormy weather conditions will be on its way to the Station next week. The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor, or ASIM, is a collection of optical cameras, light meters and an X- and gamma-ray detector.

It is the first time such a sensitive instrument will fly into space to observe the inner anatomy of lightning.

“The science we hope to do by combining data from all the instruments is explosive. Simultaneous observations will bring a whole new insight,” says Torsten Neubert, science team coordinator at the Technical University of Denmark.

Thunderstorm seen from Space Station

The biggest challenge is how to measure the phenomena in their entirety. The timescales are short – a tiny fraction of a second – and the size is big – several kilometres wide.

“Up in the atmosphere, the thin air slows down and enlarges the discharges. That gives our instruments a better chance to observe them in all their glory,” explains Torsten.

Gigantic electrical discharges in Earth’s upper atmosphere are also fascinating displays of the processes taking place inside thunderstorm clouds. Mounted on the outside of Europe’s Columbus laboratory, the observatory will open a new window onto lightning.

Global view

Lightning affects the concentration of atmospheric gases that are important for the climate. New data will improve our understanding of the effect of thunderstorms on the atmosphere and contribute to more accurate climate models.

Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor

The measurements will be coupled with those coming from meteorological satellites and ground observations from all over the world. More than 100 dedicated experts from eight countries have participated in the project so far.

ASIM is already sitting inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule and ready for launch next Monday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA.

Related links:

International Space Station Benefits for Humanity: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/International_Space_Station_Benefits_for_Humanity

European space laboratory Columbus: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Columbus

Terma (DK): http://www.terma.com/

ASIM website: http://www.asim.dk/

DTU Space: http://www.space.dtu.dk/english/Research/Projects/Project-descriptions/ASIM

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/OTD/LIS, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center/Terma/DTU.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Sprite July 6, 2016 on Jan Curtis

Jan Curtis on July 6, 2016   Cheyenne, WY


This sprite occurred over a rather ordinary complex of thunderstorms just east of McCook, Nebraska (as recorded from Cheyenne, WY). I was able to see the lightning flashes from these thunderstorms but not the actual sprite itself. However, in this image, no obvious lightning could be seen that induced this sprite. Twilight was still apparent more than 75 minutes after sunset over the east.

Sprite July 6, 2016 on Jan Curtis молнии спрайты красный спрайт

This type of sprite is often referred to as a carrot top sprite for obvious reasons.

Sprite July 6, 2016 on Jan Curtis молнии спрайты красный спрайт
Sprite July 6, 2016 on Jan Curtis молнии спрайты красный спрайт

Polar lights after a burst with minimal solar activity

The flow of high-speed solar wind over the past weekend fell into the Earth’s magnetic field (Feb 16/17), causing intermittent auroras around the Arctic circle. The gaseous material is flowing from a wide hole in the sun’s atmosphere.

The face of the sun is blank (most part of time).

The absence of sunspots heralds the approach of Solar Minimum. Sunspot numbers rise and fall with an ~11-year period, slowly oscillating between Solar Max and Solar Min. In 2018, the pendulum is swinging toward a deep minimum expected to reach nadir during the next 2 years.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is monitoring the sunspot’s magnetic canopy. A sunspot’s magnetic canopy is where solar flares happen. Magnetic lines of force criss, cross, and explode in a process known as “magnetic reconnection.” Now the active zone has left the face of the Sun.

Source: Polar lights after a burst with minimal solar activity by Xissufotoday