Studying lightning on Earth from space

Credit: NASA

Lightning is a common occurrence here on Earth. In fact, around 50 strokes of lightning happen somewhere on the planet every second. However, there is still much that scientists do not understand about this phenomenon. NASA hopes that it's Firestation instrument can help further that understanding and give some valuable new insight. Firestation was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier this week via a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency transfer vehicle. Once there, Firestation will be installed by robots to the outside of the space station.

Firestation will be particularly looking at terrestrial gamma ray flashes (TGFs). TGFs are unique in that they were once thought to only occur in space near black holes, supernovas and solar flares. However, scientists have previously discovered that TGFs are also linked to lightning on Earth and believe that over 500 occur per day. Scientists hope that in studying the TGFs of lightning, they can understand its complexity, as well as what creates it within a thunderstorm. As only certain lightning produces gamma rays, scientists hope to pinpoint which ones.

The small Firestation instrument comes equipped with a camera, as well as radio antennas and a gamma-ray electron detector. Not only will it take photos of every single lightning flash that happens on Earth, but it will also collect data on each event. From this, scientists will be able to examine different kinds of lightning (those with TGFs and those without) and where each occurs.

Firestation is expected to be ready to watch for lightning on Earth by the end of this month.


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