In a breathtaking display of nature’s wonders, astronomers on board the International Space Station (ISS) had the rare privilege of observing a striking natural phenomenon – a ‘Blue Jet’ lightning bolt, a sight seldom seen from Earth. This extraordinary event took place over the remote Pacific island of Nauru on February 26, 2019. From their unique vantage point in space, the ISS crew were ideally positioned to capture this awe-inspiring event.
Blue Jets are a rare type of lightning that originate from the peaks of thunderclouds, making them difficult to spot from the Earth’s surface. This is where the ISS’s orbit offered a unique opportunity, allowing scientists to view and record these elusive phenomena from an elevated perspective. The incident was thoroughly chronicled in a study published in ‘Nature,’ highlighting significant aspects of blue jets’ elusive nature.
The phenomenon started with five intense blue flashes, each enduring between 10 to 20 milliseconds. These flashes then evolved into a cone-shaped blue jet that extended upward into the stratosphere, the atmospheric layer lying between roughly 6 to 31 miles above the Earth.
Scientists believe blue jets are formed through an electric breakdown triggered when a cloud’s positively charged upper area reacts with the negatively charged air surrounding it. This process temporarily balances the charges within the cloud, sparking the blue jet. Although captivating, the specifics of blue jets, including their exact altitudes, remain largely unexplored, making this observation a significant addition to scientific knowledge.
Moreover, this sighting included an observation of “elves,” another atmospheric phenomenon characterized as rapidly expanding light rings in the ionosphere. These elves are created when radio waves push electrons through the ionosphere, causing energy release as light after collisions with other charged particles.
The entire sequence of events, including the blue jet and accompanying elves, was captured by the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) aboard the ISS. Astrid Orr, the ESA’s coordinator for physical sciences in human and robotic spaceflight, hailed this observation as a notable achievement of the ASIM in studying thunderstorms.
This observation not only adds to our understanding of atmospheric phenomena but also hints at potential implications for greenhouse gas concentrations in the stratosphere, where the ozone layer is located. The discovery highlights the need for ongoing re