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Flashes in the Sky: New Perspectives on Lightning Above the Clouds
March 8, 2005

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Flashes in the Sky: Lightning Zaps Space Radiation Surrounding Earth
Flashes in the Sky: Earth's Gamma-Ray Bursts Triggered by Lightning

SYNOPSIS: New NASA observations reveal that lightning has startling effects on regions of space near Earth, from flashes of energy normally seen in titanic cosmic explosions to taming fierce radiation belts.

Dr. Jim Green, NASA Scientist
The safe zone exists between the two radiation belts Animation shows lightning clearing out space radiation. No audio.
Image 1 Left: The safe zone appears as a gap between the inner and outer 'donut,' beginning about 7,000 km (4,350 miles) and ending about 13,000 km (8,110 miles) above the Earth's surface. Click on image for movie (no audio). Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer Image 2 Right: Camera pulls up through the clouds to a view from space. Radio waves from lightning (white glow) travel along the Earth's magnetic field and intercept particles in the safe zone region of the Van Allen Belts (red spiral). The radio waves deflect particles there, causing them to stream down the magnetic field line (blue) and impact Earth's upper atmosphere. This process occurs again until the safe zone is clear (represented by a dimming of the red spiral). Click on image for mpg, mov (no audio), or download stills below. Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer

Van Allen Belts react to solar radiation
Image 3: This data-based visualization shows the Van Allen Belts pulsing from solar particles over ten days. The gap that appears toward the end shows a cleared-out safe zone for satellites. The red ring represents the orbit of the IMAGE satellite, which dips into the safe zone every few days. Click on image for movie (no audio), or download print resolution still. Credit: NASA/Tom Bridgman

David Smith, UC Santa Cruz Scientist
TGFs flash high above the clouds near lightning Gamma ray flashes mapped alongside high lightning regions
Image 4 Left: Artist's conception of lightning strikes above the clouds triggering gamma-ray bursts. The red spark is a red sprite, blue jets are the short ones, and the TGF is the purple flash. Click on image for animation or download broadcast quality animation or print resolution still. (No audio) Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer. Image 5 Right: Red areas are regions that receive a lot of lightning, as recorded by satellites, while the flashes are individual TGFs observed by RHESSI. Note that the TGFs occur more frequently in regions with higher lightning probability. Click on image for animation or download broadcast quality animation (no audio). Credit: NASA/NASDA/Tom Bridgman.

Additional Video & Downloads:
Lightning strikes recorded by TRMM spacecraft. Gamma ray burst occuring out in space
Image Left:Monthly average lightning measurements from the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) on the TRMM spacecraft for January through April 1998 (no audio). Credit: NASA/NASDA Image Right: Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) in space are short-lived bursts of gamma-ray photons, the most energetic form of light. GRBs are detected roughly once per day from distant galaxies. TGFs probably occur more than 50 times a day. Credit: NASA/SkyWorks Digital

IMAGE spacecraft RHESSI spacecraft studies solar flares and gamma rays
Image Left: The team confirmed the lightning theory using radio wave data from the Radio Plasma Imager on the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft. No audio. Credit: NASA. Image Right: The RHESSI spacecraft studies the Sun in X-rays and gamma rays. Credit: NASA

Lightning helps clear the radiation in the Van Allen Belts
Images Above: Print resolution stills showing radio waves from lightning clearing out the "safe zone" in the Van Allen Radiation Belts. Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer.

Van Allen Belts react to solar radiation Van Allen Belts react to solar radiation
Van Allen Belts react to solar radiation Van Allen Belts react to solar radiation
Images Above: Print resolution stills showing IMAGE spacecraft's orbit through the safe zone. Credit: NASA/Tom Bridgman.

Lightning strikes appear below STS 55 on Earth. View of Earthly lightning from the space shuttle
Images Above: NASA "home movies" show lightning strikes from space. Left image, taken by STS-55 in 1993, shows lightning flashes that appear as bright streaks within the clouds. Right image is from STS-48 over the Mediteranean Sea. The coast of France is on the left side of the image, and the city of Algiers appears later in the movie. Credit: NASA

Red sprite appears above the clouds. Jets firing above the clouds from lightning
Image Left: Red sprites travel from the tops of clouds to as high as the ionosphere - 90 km above the Earth's surface - and last a fraction of a second. Image Right: Blue jets travel up to 50 km and last almost a full second. Credit: University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Additional Links:
Flashes in the Sky: Earth's Gamma-Ray Bursts Triggered by Lightning
Earth's Safe Zone Became Hot Zone During Legendary Solar Storms
Lightning Spies
Lightning Strikes Twice
MSFC Lightning Research
Lightning Safety Awareness
Watch the Sun in Real-Time from your Computer

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