An astronaut captured two 'blue blobs' from the ISS. Here's everything to know

The extraordinary image was captured when the ISS was flying above Southeast Asia.
Ameya Paleja
Light blobs captured from the ISS.
Light blobs captured from the ISS.

NASA Earth Observatory 

An unnamed astronaut aboard the Expedition 66 Mission to the International Space Station (ISS) happened to capture a rare lightning event from space using a Nikon D5 camera. The image was released recently by NASA's Earth Observatory.

Lightning events may be commonly observed from Earth but with 254 miles (408 km) above the ground, sighting them becomes a bit harder. This is due to the cloud cover that hides the lightning activity from the astronauts above. While spotting lightning is a rare event for the ISS crew, capturing it in a picture becomes extraordinary.

The image was captured last year on October 30. What we do not know, though, is who really captured the image. The ISS National Lab program provides the crew with equipment to take images of Earth that will be of interest to scientists and the public at large, and while the image was captured on the equipment, we do not know who was using the digital camera at that point.

What can be seen in the image?

The image was captured when the ISS was flying above Southeast Asia, and the limb of the Earth is seen as the orange-yellow halo parallel to the curvature of the Earth. The image captures areas of China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, as well as the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.

An astronaut captured two 'blue blobs' from the ISS. Here's everything to know
The image shared by NASA captioned

The ring of lights in the central part of the image is the Hainan island, the southernmost province of China, which millions of years ago was connected to the Chinese mainland. Over the years, the Hainan Straight was formed as the landmass drifted apart, and today it sits 12 miles (20 km) from the mainland.

The night lights are a representation of the population density of the region, with the landlocked country of Laos showing up as a strip of darkness.

At the bottom of the image is a big blob of lightning occurring somewhere over the Gulf of Thailand. The cloud cover, which usually hides lightning from the ISS, seems to have thinned down just enough for the lightning strike to be captured by the 28 mm lens of the Nikon D5, captured as a ring, illuminated in blue.

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Why is it blue?

Near the right end of the image is another blob of blue, which is not another bolt of lightning in the South China sea but the light from the Moon. As Live Science reported, the Moon was likely at an orientation where the light it was reflecting from the Sun passed through the Earth's atmosphere scattering off some tiny particles.

When visible light interacts with particles in the atmosphere, the latter can cause them to scatter. Since blue is the shortest wavelength, it is likely to be scattered the most and is the reason the sky also appears blue during the day.

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