An interesting paper potentially explaining a rare type of lighting, the Blue Jet.
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.
Here’s a description of the paper from ScienceNews
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.
One to beam up!
Scuffing feet on the carpet to static zap my sister was always fun as a kid.
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.
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.
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…
Analog bombing computer using a phonic wheel velodyne and a square rooting pinwheel. Vulnerable only to a club hammer.
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!
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.
Yes. But the light registers on the retina — otherwise you’d not see an image of it above.
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.
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.
A better understanding of how these charges develop and dissipate could lead to a better understanding of meteorology.
‘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.
A couple of related links to read:
NASA’s Fermi Catches Thunderstorms Hurling Antimatter into Space
Dark Lightning is a fascinating tale of discovery, obscuration and rediscovery that begins in the days when photographers used Photographic Plates.
Electric currents are are unknown phenomena to the climate scientists and astrophysicists alike.
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.
Weren’t reports of blue jets ignored for decades by the scientific consensus?
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.