Do giant flashes of lightning striking upwards from thunder clouds merely pose an extraordinarily spectacular view? Or do they actually alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere, playing a role in ozone depletion and the climate on Earth? This is the key question that may be answered by specially designed cameras, which ESA proposes to place on board the International Space Station.
The International Space Station (ISS) is the ideal setting for studies of spectacular natural phenomena well hidden from us on Earth - so-called red sprites, blue jets and elves: vast flashes of lightning striking not from clouds to the ground, but from clouds towards space.
Normally the word lightning makes us think of sharp zigzag lines striking from the clouds to the ground. Above the clouds however a quite different type of lightning can be seen. There lightning is colourful - mainly red and blue - and covers large areas of the upper atmosphere. Sometimes it can even reach the border between the atmosphere and space.
Dieter Isakeit | alfa
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