Nasa releases stunning image of lightning strike from space as part of new 'lightning lab'

The image above shows the strike, click for a larger size

Nasa has released a stunning photo of a lightning strike as seen by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the launch of Firestation, a new instrument on the station dedicated to tracking lightning.

The image shows a cloudy outlook over the Arabian peninsula with a pale purple glow indicating where the lightning has struck. The mass of orange at the bottom edge of the photo is Kuwait City, while the smaller cluster of lights towards the top of the picture is the city of Hafar Al Batin in Saudi Arabia.

The photo was taken last December but has only just been released as a part of the new Nasa initiative. Images like this one might be rare but lightning bolts themselves are extremely common, crackling across Earth’s atmosphere at a rate of roughly 50 times a second.

All this activity adds up to 4.3 million strikes every day or 1.5 billion a year, says Nasa. However, the space agency is only really interested in one type of lightning: the comparatively rare strikes that emit gamma rays, a type of radiation usually only created by exploding stars and during nuclear fusion.

Lightning strikes of this sort are known as TGFs or terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, and they’re so powerful that they actually create antimatter in the Earth’s atmosphere for fractions of a second. 

TGFs weren’t spotted on Earth until the 1990s but it's stilll not known how lightning can create this sort of radiation. Even though lightning strikes are powerful enough to heat the air they travel through to temperatures three and a half times hotter than the surface of the sun, scientists say they’re still 10 times too weak to produce gamma radiation.

"Somewhere in the atmosphere momentarily there's just an incredible amount of energy release and what happens in that region is something of a witch's brew," said Doug Rowland, principle investigator for Firestation at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

“You get energetic neutrons that basically you never see in the quiet atmosphere, that you only associate with nuclear reactions, that are happening in our atmosphere whenever these things go off. That's one of the first fundamental science reasons [to study these strikes]: it's part of our planet; we don't understand it; we want to understand it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Media Sales - OTE up to £30,000

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique & exciting opp...

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935