Jan 22, 2021

Space station detectors found the source of weird ‘blue jet’ lightning

Posted by in categories: climatology, space

Blue jets have been observed from the ground and aircraft for years, but it’s hard to tell how they form without getting high above the clouds. Now, instruments on the International Space Station have spotted a blue jet emerge from an extremely brief, bright burst of electricity near the top of a thundercloud, researchers report online January 20 in Nature.

Understanding blue jets and other upper-atmosphere phenomena related to thunderstorms, such as sprites (SN: 6/14/02) and elves (SN: 12/23/95), is important because these events can affect how radio waves travel through the air — potentially impacting communication technologies, says Penn State space physicist Victor Pasko, who was not involved in the work.

Cameras and light-sensing instruments called photometers on the space station observed the blue jet in a storm over the Pacific Ocean, near the island of Nauru, in February 2019. “The whole thing starts with what I think of as a blue bang,” says Torsten Neubert, an atmospheric physicist at the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby. That “blue bang” was a 10-microsecond flash of bright blue light near the top of the cloud, about 16 kilometers high. From that flashpoint, a blue jet shot up into the stratosphere, climbing as high as about 52 kilometers over several hundred milliseconds.

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