On October 8, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet captured something strikingly rare from aboard the Worldwide Space Station (ISS).
The photo – that is a single frame obtained from an extended timelapse – might seem like it shows a cobalt explosive device exploding over Europe, however this frightening-searching blue light did not inflict damage. Actually, many people would not have observed it happening.
Also referred to as upper-atmospheric lighting, transient luminous occasions are a lot of related phenomena which occur during thunderstorms, but considerably above where normal lighting would seem. While associated with lighting, they work a bit differently.
You will find ‘blue jets’, which happen lower lower within the stratosphere, triggered by lightning. When the lighting propagates with the negatively billed (top) region from the storm clouds before it will get with the positive region below, the lightning winds up striking upwards, igniting a blue glow from molecular nitrogen.
There are red SPRITES (Stratospheric/mesospheric Perturbations Caused by Intense Storm Electrification) – electrical discharges that frequently glow red, occurring high over a storm cell, triggered by disturbances in the lightning below – and slightly dimmer red ELVES (Emission of sunshine and incredibly Low Frequency perturbations because of Electromagnetic Pulse Sources) within the ionosphere.
Staying with the theme, there’s also TROLLs (Transient Red Optical Luminous Lineaments) which occur after strong SPRITES, in addition to Pixies and GHOSTS. We are sure the scientists had plenty of fun naming many of these phenomena.
“What’s fascinating relating to this lightning is the fact that only a couple of decades ago they were observed anecdotally by pilots, and scientists weren’t convinced they really existed,” Pesquet explains inside a photo caption.
“Go forward a couple of many we are able to confirm elves, and sprites are extremely real and is influencing our climate too!”
Although Pesquet does not explain particularly which kind of luminous event we are seeing, this specific image might be showing a ‘blue starter’, that is a blue jet that does not quite reach the jet part, and rather results in a shorter and better glow.
These occasions are particularly difficult to photograph in the ground because they are both high on the horizon as well as regularly obscured by storm clouds. Plus, the phenomena usually only continue for milliseconds or a matter of seconds every time.
With all of individuals things in your mind, it can make the ISS an especially good way to consider these transient occasions, specifically if you possess a timelapse switched on. To date we have seen numerous these occasions taken by astronauts around the ISS, and a little number obtained from the floor.
Interestingly, Earth is not the only place in which the flashing lights occur, with researchers finding just this past year that ‘blue sprites’ were occurring on Jupiter too.
“The Area Station is very perfect for this observatory because it flies within the equator where you can find more thunderstorms,” states Pesquet.
“This can be a unusual occurrence and there exists a facility outdoors Europe’s Columbus laboratory focused on observing these flashes of sunshine.”
Hopefully this research can give us plenty more photos of the incredible phenomena later on!