What caused the mysterious blue glow seen from the ISS

This is a rare "transient event". A bright blue light was recently spotted over Europe and is the latest in a series of exciting atmospheric storm observations from the ISS

A bright blue light was spotted over Europe from the international space station in late September. Astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Andreas Mogensen recorded a timelapse and called the glow a "thunderclap with a 'transient light event' in the upper atmosphere." This rare event will be further observed from a facility outside the European Columbus Laboratory near Munich, Germany. Spectacular light events in the upper atmosphere are becoming increasingly interesting to astronauts.

What is a blue glow

While this particular light event has not yet been named, other unique variations on storms include blue and red jets. Blue jets are lightning bolts that rise upward from thunderstorms in the stratosphere. Red SPRITEs (Stratospheric/mesospheric disturbances resulting from electrification of an intense thunderstorm) are brief, soft-colored flashes that emanate above an active thunderstorm. The glow can appear in a variety of colors, but is usually red and often resembles jellyfish, carrots, or columns.

ElVES (Light Emission and Very Low Frequency Perturbations from Electromagnetic Pulse Sources) are disk-shaped flashes of light that last just a thousandth of a second.

The study of lights in space

Pesquet explained that "only a few decades ago this lightning was observed anecdotally by pilots and scientists who were not convinced of their existence. Fast forward a few years and we can confirm that elves and sprites are very real and could affect our climate as well!" Now that scientists have empirically demonstrated the existence of these strange but brilliant atmospheric light shows, the next steps are to study and understand these phenomena, a difficult task to do from Earth.

Analyses like this are based on data acquired from the International Space Station. One such research paper published in Nature in early 2021 documented the electromagnetic waves emitted as the lights flickered.

The mysteries of the Universe are still many and we still have much to learn and observe. Only recently has it been understood how elements are formed in stars, while another study found that the Earth's core grows asymmetrically. Since 2005, instead, we try to understand what is the strange object half comet and half asteroid that travels in the solar system.

Stefania Bernardini