ESA astronaut aboard ISS to document lightning from space

Huginn, a climate science mission, aims to enhance our comprehension of the physics underlying the lightning phenomenon.
Mrigakshi Dixit
Thunderstorm seen from Space Station
Thunderstorm seen from Space Station


Andreas Mogensen, an astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA), will carry out a series of experiments using a high-tech camera system to capture thunderstorms and lightning from the International Space Station (ISS). 

Huginn, a climate science mission, aims to enhance our comprehension of the physics underlying the lightning phenomenon, which is not fully understood.

Lightning is caused by the accumulation of electrical energy in clouds, which rapidly discharges to the ground. 

As per ESA’s official release, certain lightning phenomena take place between clouds but do not make contact with the Earth's surface. Conversely, others manifest above the clouds, such as "blue jets," which resemble inverted lightning bolts projecting into space, or "red sprites," which discharge in the mesosphere (the third layer of the Earth’s atmosphere). 

“The interaction between these lightning events and the upper atmosphere is not fully understood,” said Olivier Chanrion, senior researcher at DTU Space, in the press release. 

This new filming-based study is being undertaken by DTU Space, Denmark's largest space research organization, which previously led a similar experiment called Thor with Andreas in 2015.

“Thanks to Thor we know there are more than what we expected. With Thor-Davis we have the opportunity to analyze and quantify their impact and to check to which extent they are associated with overshooting thundercloud tops that inject greenhouse gases and aerosols in the stratosphere. We think it is important to better understand that in a changing climate,” added Chanrion. 

Advanced event-based camera technology

Astronaut Andreas arrived at the orbital space station in August, where he will stay for the next six months. 

In this time frame, he will capture thunderstorms from the European-built Cupola windows using the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) observatory with an additional "Davis camera" on top. ASIM is widely used to investigate and monitor a wide range of phenomena that occur in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

This specialized Davis camera employs event-based technology, which means “instead of taking images by collecting light through the camera shutter, the camera measures differences in light and uses that information to create an image.”

​​To put into perspective, if someone sits still in a well-lit room, a Davis camera won't detect them because the lighting remains constant. However, if the person starts moving, the Davis camera will pick up the change in light and create a video.

ESA astronaut aboard ISS to document lightning from space
Thunderstorm by Andreas Mogensen in 2015

Davis technology can record at speeds of up to 100,000 images per second. This feature will allow him to easily capture extremely brief transient luminous events (TLEs) that occur for less than a millisecond.

“We are excited to have Andreas Mogensen look for thunderstorms with the new event camera. Last time he captured a blue jet, so we hope for even more pictures over his six-month stay. This will be the first time an event camera is used to observe lightning events by an astronaut” said Chanrion.

With the images acquired from these experiments, scientists expect to get a greater understanding of how distinct lightning originates and interacts with the higher sections of the atmosphere. In this process, how the phenomenon influences greenhouse gases like ozone.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board