ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet
Glow Cloud

Space Station Astronauts Spot Strange Glow Over Europe

byTony Tran
Oct 9
ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

Here’s what caused the "very rare occurrence."

Lightning in the Sky

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) discovered a strange blue glow over Europe early last month. 

The glow was a “transient luminous event,” according to French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on Twitter. This is a phenomenon that occurs when there’s lightning in the upper atmosphere in altitudes above where it typically occurs.

“This is a very rare occurrence and we have a facility outside Europe’s Columbus laboratory dedicated to observing these flashes of light,” Pesquet wrote on a Flickr post of the image. “The Space Station is extremely well suited for this observatory as it flies over the equator where there are more thunderstorms.”

ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

Fantastic Images

One benefit of being on the ISS is the ability to study atmospheric events that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to on Earth. These events — sometimes given fantasy-inspired names such as elves and sprites — might even be impacting our climate. 

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“What is fascinating about this lightning is that just a few decades ago they had been observed anecdotally by pilots and scientists were not convinced they actually existed,” Pesquet wrote on Flickr. “Fast forward a few years and we can confirm elves, and sprites are very real and could be influencing our climate too!”

READ MORE: Astronaut spots rare and ethereal ‘transient luminous event’ from ISS [CNET]

More on space images: SpaceX Launch Spits Out Epic, Fiery Jellyfish in Night Sky


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