Victor Lorenzo, one of our Planet Analog bloggers, alerted me to an interesting European-based project known as SAINT (Science And INnovation with Thunderstorms). There are several universities and institutions involved in this effort. The project is coordinated by Dr. Torsten Neubert, from the DTU SPACE, Technical University of Denmark.
Lightning affects Greenhouse gases concentrations as well as its capability of damaging electrical/electronic systems, especially those in elevated structures like wind turbines or aircraft. Scientists at SAINT want to fully understand this atmospheric electrical phenomenon.
Recently, scientists have observed a new discharge process above the thunderstorm cloud layer called Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) in the stratosphere and Mesosphere. There have also been observations of Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (TGFs) which can emit anti-matter particle beams. Such fields as plasma and high-voltage technology have never properly investigated these types of discharges.
(Image courtesy of SAINT)
The SAINT project is making efforts to understand these events via the use of satellites in three upcoming missions and also ground observation and the use of modelling and laboratory experiments in a geophysical aspect to understand the fundamental mechanisms of these atmospheric discharges.
Two of these missions are already on the International Space Station (ISS). They are the “Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM)”, an effort by the European Space Agency (ESA) this year and NASA’s ISS “Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) in 2016.
ASIM studies climate and giant lightning discharges from the International Space Station (ISS) (Image courtesy of SAINT)
Lightning strikes our planet Earth about 45 times per second, observed by detailed observations from space-borne lightning detectors developed and flown by NASA over the past twenty years. The Space Test Program-H5-Lightning Imaging Sensor (STP-H5 LIS) continues these important observations by the deployment of a similar sensor on the International Space Station (ISS) to measure the amount, rate, and energy of lightning around the world. Improved understanding of lightning and its connections to weather provides crucial insight for weather forecasting, climate change, atmospheric chemistry and physics, and aircraft and spacecraft safety. (Image and quote courtesy of NASA)
There is also a third, a “Tool for the Analysis of RAdiatioN from lightning and Sprites (TARANIS)”, a satellite from the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) coming up in 2018. The European missions are the first ones to send dedicated instrumentation for the simultaneous observation of lightning.
The TARANIS mission is named after the Celtic god of thunder. Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), also known as ‘elves’, sprites or blue jets, are extremely short-lived events which emit high amounts of X-ray and Gamma Ray radiation into space. (Image courtesy of CNES/ILL D. Ducros)
What are your thoughts regarding such usage of space and satellite deployment in this application? Should NASA and the European Space Agency use these funds for other scientific studies? Please do not get political in your answer—we are engineers, so I expect a sharing of technical ideas only on this site.