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‘Blue jet’ lightning detected from International Space Station

Peter Stubley
·1-min read
<p>An artist’s visualisation of the blue jet lighting and pulses observed from the International Space Station</p> (ESA)

An artist’s visualisation of the blue jet lighting and pulses observed from the International Space Station

(ESA)

A blue jet – a bolt of lightning that shoots upwards from thunderstorm clouds – has been spotted from the International Space Station.

The phenomenon was spotted by the European Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) near the island of Naru in the Pacific Ocean.

In an article published in the science journal Nature, astronomers describe seeing five intense blue flashes, each lasting about 10 milliseconds.

Four of the flashes were accompanied by a small pulse of ultraviolet light, which appear as rapidly expanding ring. They are formed by the interaction of electrons, radio waves and the atmosphere and are known as elves (Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources).

The fifth flash sent out a pulsating blue jet, a form of lightning that can reach as far as 50km into the stratosphere and lasts less than a second.

An artist’s visualisation of the phenomenon has now been released by the European Space Agency (ESA) to accompany the Nature article.

Scientists say that their observations using the ASIM – known as the space storm hunter – could help reveal how lighting is initiated in clouds and how they may influence the concentration of greenhouse gasses in Earth’s atmosphere.

Astrid Orr, ESA's physical sciences coordinator for human and robotic spaceflight, said: "This paper is an impressive highlight of the many new phenomena ASIM is observing above thunderstorms and shows that we still have so much to discover and learn about our universe.

“Congratulations to all the scientists and university teams that made this happen as well as the engineers that built the observatory and the support teams on ground operating ASIM – a true international collaboration that has led to amazing discoveries.”

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