Lightning in the camera – from above

Science and exploration

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ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen will image thunderstorms and lightning as they hurtle toward space as part of the climate sciences of the Hugen mission.

Various lightning phenomena in the upper atmosphere

We all know that a flash of lightning is followed by the sound of thunder, but the physics behind this phenomenon is not fully understood. The lightning we see occurs when clouds become electrically charged and discharge with the ground. But most lightning occurs among clouds and never touches the ground. Some even take place above clouds. With names like “blues jets” that appear as inverted lightning shooting into space or “red sprites” that shoot up in the mesosphere, these phenomena are called “transient luminous events” (TLEs).

During Andreas’ first mission “Eris” he captured a blue jet, a puck and several blue discharges that seemed to dance above the thunderclouds.

During the Hugen mission, Andreas will use the space station’s camera with instrument on top to take images of thunderstorms from the windows of the cupolas built in Europa. The experiment is being led by Denmark’s largest space research institute, DTU Space, which also led the first experiment with Andreas called Thor in 2015.

A camera like our eyes

A thunderstorm captured by Andreas in 2015 during his first mission to the space station

The additional camera on top is the Davis camera that uses “event-based” technology. Instead of taking pictures by collecting light through a camera’s shutter, the camera measures differences in light and uses that information to create an image. A person sitting completely still in a lit room would not be recorded on Davis’ camera because the light does not change. If the person starts to move, Davis’ camera will record the change in light and produce a video.

This process is similar to how the human eye works, humans are more sensitive to change in vision and interpret a scene with much less information. Davis’ technology can shoot up to the 100,000 images per second needed to capture TLEs that expire in the blink of an eye – in less than a millisecond.

“We are thrilled that Andreas Mogensen will be looking for thunderstorms with the new Event Camera. Last time he captured a bluebird, we hope to get more images during his six-month stay. They will be This is the first time that the Event Camera has been used to monitor lightning events by an astronaut.”

lightning climate

Through the images that Andreas will take, scientists hope to gain more knowledge about how these phenomena evolve, interact with the upper atmosphere and affect greenhouse gases such as ozone.

“The interaction between these lightning events and the upper atmosphere is not fully understood. Thanks to Thor we know there is more than we expected. With Thor-Davis, we have the opportunity to analyze and measure their impact and investigate how they relate to overshooting thunderclouds that pump greenhouse gases and aerosols into the stratosphere “We think it is important to understand this better in a changing climate,” said Olivier.

You can follow Andreas’ mission on his social media and Huginn’s page.

Andreas gives a presentation on thunderclouds

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