Once upon a time in a thunderstorm

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Once upon a time in a thunderstorm‘Phys.Org

Once upon a time in a thunderstorm

Thunderstorms in Earth’s upper atmosphere remain something of a mystery. Scientists cannot reach them directly with instruments; they are too high for balloons and too low for weather satellites. Flying through thunderstorms or camping out on mountaintops waiting for one typically ranks low even on an adventurers’ bucket list. An investigation aboard the International Space Station has come to the rescue. The European Space Agency (ESA) Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) is a collection of optical cameras, photometers and a large X- and gamma-ray detector mounted on the outside of ESA’s Columbus Module on the station. For at least two years, it will observe thunderstorm-generated electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere – the stratosphere and mesosphere – up to the ionosphere, the edge of space. This Earth observation facility enables study of severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

Upper-atmospheric lightning, known as transient luminous events, includes colorful phenomena with names straight out of a fairy tale: sprites, elves, and giants.

The space station offers this investigation an ideal observing platform for several reasons. Its low-Earth orbit brings the observations as close as possible to these upper-atmosphere phenomena. The station’s orbit also offers almost complete coverage of tropical and subtropical regions, much of which are difficult to access but are where some of the most intense thunderstorms form. Finally, observations are made in optical bands that are subject to absorption in the atmosphere and so cannot be used for ground observations.

Sprites are flashes caused by electrical breakdown in the mesosphere. Blue jets are lightning discharges reaching upwards through the stratosphere, and elves are concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse at the ionosphere’s bottom edge. Giants are large discharges that create an electrical breakdown of the atmosphere from the top of thunderstorms to the bottom ionosphere. Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes are a flash phenomenon generated at the top of thunderstorms. Evidence suggests that run-away electron discharge causes some of these phenomena.

In the 1920s, English scientist C.T.R. Wilson received a Nobel Prize for work with a cloud chamber that made visible the ionizing radiation from cosmic rays and X-rays. He predicted that electrical discharges can occur above thunderstorms in the mesosphere, and that thunderstorm electrical fields can accelerate electrons to relativistic energies. Instruments were not sensitive enough to provide a definitive answer until 1993, however, when flashes of X-rays over thunderstorms were observed from NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.

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Watching: Phys.Org Once, International Space Station, ESA Columbus Module


I Am A, where the mundane becomes fascinating and the outrageous suddenly seems normal.
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Once upon a time in a thunderstorm
on 13th of Apr 2018 Upper atmospheric phenomena powered by thunderstorms, including terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes and Transient Luminous Emissions (TLEs), electrical discharges that include blue glimpses at the top of thunderstorms, blue jet, gigantic jet, red sprite, haloes

Once upon a time in Germany
(Apr 2018) In recognition of this heritage, D’sseldorf is peppered with images of cartwheelers ‘ on storm drains, door knockers . is one of 50 works on display in the exhibition ‘Once Upon a Time: Art of Jewish Children in Germany on the Eve of World War

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