Lightning From Space!

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Here’s an amazing shot of a flash of lightning within storm clouds over west Africa, captured from orbit by ESA astronaut AndrĂ© Kuipers aboard the ISS.

Lightning is a common sight from Space Station, creating a constant light show for the astronaut and cosmonaut crew members. On average, lightning strikes the ground somewhere on Earth 100 times each second, and there are 5 to 10 times as many cloud-to-cloud flashes as there are ground strikes. That adds up to about 40 to 80 million flashes of lightning every day around the world! Considering that the ISS orbits Earth 16 times a day — and from quite a high viewpoint — it stands to reason that lightning is spotted quite often.

So although it may not be rare, lightning still makes for dramatic photos — especially to those of us here on the ground!

For more information on André and his ongoing long-duration PromISSe mission, visit the ESA site here.

Image credit: ESA/NASA

ISS Soars Over Stormy Africa


Here’s a quick but lovely little gem: a time-lapse video taken from the ISS as it passed above central Africa, Madagascar and the southern Indian Ocean on December 29, 2011. The nighttime flyover shows numerous lightning storms and the thin band of our atmosphere, with a layer of airglow above, set against a stunning backdrop of the Milky Way and a barely-visible Comet Lovejoy, just two weeks after its close encounter with the Sun.

This video was made from photos taken by Expedition 30 astronauts. The photos were compiled at Johnson Space Center and uploaded to The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, an excellent database of… well, of astronauts’ photos of Earth.

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The site’s description of this particular video states:

This video was taken by the crew of Expedition 30 on board the International Space Station. The sequence of shots was taken December 29, 2011 from 20:55:05 to 21:14:09 GMT, on a pass from over central Africa, near southeast Niger, to the South Indian Ocean, southeast of Madagascar. The complete pass is over southern Africa to the ocean, focusing on the lightning flashes from local storms and the Milky Way rising over the horizon. The Milky Way can be spotted as a hazy band of white light at the beginning of the video. The pass continues southeast toward the Mozambique Channel and Madagascar. The Lovejoy Comet can be seen very faintly near the Milky Way. The pass ends as the sun is rising over the dark ocean.

There are lots more time-lapse videos on the Gateway as well, updated periodically. Check them out here.

Video courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.

News Flash: Cassini Captures First Movie of Lightning on Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured images of lightning on Saturn, allowing the scientists to create the first movie showing lightning flashing on another planet. “Ever since the beginning of the Cassini mission, a major goal of the Imaging Team has been the detection of Saturnian lightning,” said team leader Carolyn Porco in an email. Porco said the ability to capture the lightning was a direct result of the dimming of the ringshine on the night side of the planet during last year’s Saturn equinox. “And these flashes have been shown to be coincident in time with the emission of powerful electrostatic discharges intercepted by the Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave experiment,” Porco added.

The sound in the video approximates the electrostatic discharge signals detected by the instrument.
Continue reading “News Flash: Cassini Captures First Movie of Lightning on Saturn”

How Close Was That Lightning to the Shuttle?

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If you’re wondering why the first launch attempt for space shuttle Discovery was scrubbed early Tuesday morning, here’s your answer. Yikes! But what a gorgeous picture! And of course, the second launch attempt early Wednesday morning was called off when instrumentation for an 8-inch fill and drain valve on the shuttle’s external tank indicated the valve had failed to close. But yesterday, the valve functioned correctly five times during launch pad tests, NASA said. That means NASA will likely go ahead with a launch attempt at 04:22 GMT (12:22 a.m. ET) on Friday. But the anomaly remains unexplained, so it will be up to the mission management team to decide if the shuttle can fly as is, or if engineers need to know more about the issue. The decision won’t be made, however until the MMT meets Thursday afternoon, just hours before the scheduled liftoff time. As the saying goes, there’s a million parts on the shuttle and if only one is not working….

UPDATE: Launch now is targeted for no earlier than 11:59 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, to allow engineers more time to develop plans for resolving the issue with the valve.

See below for a close-up of the lightning shot, to see how close it actually came to the shuttle.

Lightining strikes close to Discovery on the launchpad on Aug. 25, 2009. Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper.  Click image for access to larger version.
Lightining strikes close to Discovery on the launchpad on Aug. 25, 2009. Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper. Click image for access to larger version.

Discovery’s 13-day mission will deliver more than 7 tons of supplies, science racks and equipment, as well as additional environmental hardware to sustain six crew members on the International Space Station. The equipment includes a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and the COLBERT treadmill. The mission is the 128th in the Space Shuttle Program, the 37th flight of Discovery and the 30th station assembly flight.

Hat Tip to absolutespacegrl on Twitter!