Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere

blue jet illustration
The International Space Station spotted an exotic type of upside-down lightning called a blue jet (illustrated) zipping up from a thundercloud into the stratosphere in 2019.DTU SPACE, DANIEL SCHMELLING/MOUNT VISUAL

An interesting paper potentially explaining a rare type of lighting, the Blue Jet.


From Nature

Blue jets are lightning-like, atmospheric electric discharges of several hundred millisecond duration that fan into cones as they propagate from the top of thunderclouds into the stratosphere1. They are thought to initiate in an electric breakdown between the positively charged upper region of a cloud and a layer of negative charge at the cloud boundary and in the air above. The breakdown forms a leader that transitions into streamers2 when propagating upwards3.

However, the properties of the leader, and the altitude to which it extends above the clouds, are not well characterized4. Blue millisecond flashes in cloud tops5,6 have previously been associated with narrow bipolar events7,8, which are 10- to 30-microsecond pulses in wideband electric field records, accompanied by bursts of intense radiation at 3 to 300 megahertz from discharges with short (inferred) channel lengths (less than one kilometre)9–11.

Here we report spectral measurements from the International Space Station, which offers an unimpeded view of thunderclouds, with 10-microsecond temporal resolution. We observe five intense, approximately 10-microsecond blue flashes from a thunderstorm cell. One flash initiates a pulsating blue jet to the stratopause (the interface between the stratosphere and the ionosphere). The observed flashes were accompanied by ‘elves’12 in the ionosphere. Emissions from lightning leaders in the red spectral band are faint and localized, suggesting that the flashes and the jet are streamer ionization waves, and that the leader elements at their origin are short and localized.

We propose that the microsecond flashes are the optical equivalent of negative narrow bipolar events observed in radio waves. These are known to initiate lightning within the cloud and to the ground, and blue lightning into the stratosphere, as reported here.

Full article here.

Here’s a description of the paper from ScienceNews

By Maria Temming

JANUARY 21, 2021 AT 1:12 PM

Scientists have finally gotten a clear view of the spark that sets off an exotic type of lightning called a blue jet.

Blue jets zip upward from thunderclouds into the stratosphere, reaching altitudes up to about 50 kilometers in less than a second. Whereas ordinary lightning excites a medley of gases in the lower atmosphere to glow white, blue jets excite mostly stratospheric nitrogen to create their signature blue hue.

Blue jets have been observed from the ground and aircraft for years, but it’s hard to tell how they form without getting high above the clouds. Now, instruments on the International Space Station have spotted a blue jet emerge from an extremely brief, bright burst of electricity near the top of a thundercloud, researchers report online January 20 in Nature.

Understanding blue jets and other upper-atmosphere phenomena related to thunderstorms, such as sprites (SN: 6/14/02) and elves (SN: 12/23/95), is important because these events can affect how radio waves travel through the air — potentially impacting communication technologies, says Penn State space physicist Victor Pasko, who was not involved in the work.

Full article here

ScienceNews article here

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dk_
January 23, 2021 6:15 pm

One to beam up!

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  dk_
January 23, 2021 9:32 pm

Scuffing feet on the carpet to static zap my sister was always fun as a kid.

Julian Flood
January 23, 2021 8:34 pm

I’ve actually been inside one of these when I was a Vulcan copilot. We were well above the cunim tops on a night sortie above the UK in very thin cirrus at about 47,000ft.

The phenomenon was like an expanding net of pale dendritic filaments which ended at the tips, not extending indefinitely and it grew from below. It was the colour of St Elmo’s Fire, pale blue.

I’ve often wondered what it was.

JF

noaaprogrammer
Reply to  Julian Flood
January 23, 2021 9:47 pm

I’ve had the privilege of seeing St. Elmo’s Fire associated with a gust front from a thunderstorm in Clarkston, Washington. It occurred sometime in the 1980s. What was unusual about the storm was that it came from the east rather than the west or southwest. As the front crossed the Snake River, my dad and I noticed three or four small geysers shoot around 10 feet above the surface of the river. And as the front reached us in the Clarkston Heights we saw beautiful blue glowing spheres between the size of a softball and a basketball suddenly appear on the metal chain link fence surrounding out backyard. I have no idea what, if any, the connection was between the geysers and the storm.

Angryscotonfragglerock
Reply to  Julian Flood
January 24, 2021 2:06 am

Just as well you were in an unarmed steam-powered jet – a modern, unhardened Airbus might fare differently. A mate entered a Cb with 2 fuel tanks and, after a lightning strike, exited with a clean Jet! Lightning is quite a powerful DEW…

Julian Flood
Reply to  Angryscotonfragglerock
January 25, 2021 2:55 am

Analog bombing computer using a phonic wheel velodyne and a square rooting pinwheel. Vulnerable only to a club hammer.

JF

J Savage
Reply to  Julian Flood
January 24, 2021 7:30 am

What a sight that must have been. Thanks.

I saw a Vulcan at the Cold Lake air show in 1978. I was – and still am – crazy about airplanes. My dad took me. My ears are still ringing!

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Julian Flood
January 24, 2021 9:35 am

May not have been a “blue jet” if their characteristic lifetime is only on the order of several hundred milliseconds, as reported in the above article excerpt.

Julian Flood
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
January 25, 2021 2:56 am

Yes. But the light registers on the retina — otherwise you’d not see an image of it above.

JF

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Julian Flood
January 25, 2021 9:00 am

Julian, my comment to your OP was in reference therein to: “The phenomenon was like an expanding net of pale dendritic filaments which ended at the tips, not extending indefinitely and it grew from below.”

That’s a lot of activity for the human mind to observe over several hundreds of milliseconds of observation . . . literally, the duration of an eye blink.

🙂

Joel O'Bryan
January 23, 2021 9:31 pm

All of these are the completion of an electrical circuit. The clouds-to-ground or clouds-to-cloud act as charged capacitors from frictional flow. Frictional interaction accumulates e- charge.
Once they become sufficiently charged… they discharge.
The circuit completes through either back to ground or through the ionosphere (a plasma) plane.

Last edited 1 month ago by joelobryan
MarkW
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 24, 2021 4:14 pm

A better understanding of how these charges develop and dissipate could lead to a better understanding of meteorology.

commieBob
January 23, 2021 9:35 pm

Understanding blue jets and other upper-atmosphere phenomena related to thunderstorms, such as sprites (SN: 6/14/02) and elves (SN: 12/23/95), is important because these events can affect how radio waves travel through the air — potentially impacting communication technologies, says Penn State space physicist Victor Pasko, who was not involved in the work.

‘They’ feel they have to somehow make things relevant. Somehow we have to be made to understand how the science affects us. In this case, they’re grasping at straws.

When I was a pup, short wave communication was still a big deal. We deeply cared what the ionosphere was doing. Now, I’m not even sure how important geosynchronous satellites are any more. We have constellations and a localized disruption like you might get in the vicinity of a thunderstorm shouldn’t be able to cause a big problem.

How much long distance communication is by RF any more? The vast majority of RF is line of sight, and that’s pretty hard to seriously disrupt. Vast majority? you ask. Yeah well everyone has a cell phone don’t they.

RdM
January 24, 2021 2:18 am

A couple of related links to read:

NASA’s Fermi Catches Thunderstorms Hurling Antimatter into Space
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GLAST/news/fermi-thunderstorms.html

Dark Lightning is a fascinating tale of discovery, obscuration and rediscovery that begins in the days when photographers used Photographic Plates.
https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/dark-lightning/

Regards!

Vuk
January 24, 2021 3:08 am

Electric currents are are unknown phenomena to the climate scientists and astrophysicists alike.

rbabcock
Reply to  Vuk
January 24, 2021 5:44 am

Which is truly remarkable to me. We live 93M miles from a Sun made up of charged particles throwing them outward in all directions, plasma is everywhere outside of our snug little world, cosmic rays come flying at us in all directions, the Sun and even our galaxy drags an electric field around it that passes through our solar system periodically and we have solar flares and CME’s that could wipe our civilization off the Earth.. yet CO2 is what will be our end.

Roger Knights
January 25, 2021 1:52 am

Weren’t reports of blue jets ignored for decades by the scientific consensus?

SteveAnthony
January 25, 2021 6:13 am

Does anyone know what the donut shaped ring is behind and above the blue jet?
In the video of it, the ring expanded very quickly.

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