This is a visualization of the blue jet lightning captured in 2019. Credit: DTU SPACE, DANIEL SCHMELLING/MOUNT VISUAL

Scientists Find Source Of Mysterious Blue Jets Photographed From Space

Scientists are still arguing about their nature, and in the entire history they have collected no more than a hundred photographs.


The European Space Agency (ESA) has published a video from space with rare lightning, which is called a “blue jet”. An unusual phenomenon was captured by the ASIM observatory installed on the ISS.

Unlike ordinary lightning, “blue jets” during a thunderstorm strike up from the cloud and not down, and release a discharge to the highest layers of the stratosphere. Such flashes of lightning can reach a height of 50 kilometers with a duration of several milliseconds which makes them incredibly hard to observe.


The European Space Agency managed to capture a “blue jet” that emerged after five intense 10-microsecond flares in clouds near the island of Naru in the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, the real footage has not been revealed to the public yet but the European Space Agency published an artist’s visualization of the entire phenomenon which you can see directly below.

Artist’s impression of the moment a blue jet appeared. Credit: ESA

The strike of such lightning, among other things, gives rise to “elves” – expanding rings in the visible and ultraviolet range, which radiate into the Earth’s ionosphere.

Recording a “blue jet” lightning from space will help scientists understand not only how lightning occurs, but also how thunderstorms can spread greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Previously, researchers had only photographs of the phenomenon taken from Earth.

Blue jet lightning are among the hardest phenomena for observations


Blue jets are considered rare and difficult to document. In the entire history of observations, scientists have taken less than a hundred photographs and most of them during one particular thunderstorm in 1994.

Researchers still do not fully understand the mechanism of the formation of “blue jets” and argue about their nature.

At first, it was believed that these are ordinary lightning with a positive charge in a thundercloud and a negative charge above it.

But over time, the idea of ​​this changed and for a certain period, the appearance of blue jet lightning was associated with hail. Nowadays, it is believed that the blue color of the “jets” is due to a set of blue and close to ultraviolet radiation of molecular nitrogen.

For the first time, such lightning was recorded on October 21, 1989, on black and white video over Australia. The first color pictures and videos, as well as most of the pictures of the phenomenon, were, in principle, taken in 1994 from an airplane sent on a focused mission to study lightning.

Image taken in 2015 from the International Space Station. It is one of about one hundred such photographs ever taken. Credit: ESA/NASA
Image taken in 2015 from the International Space Station. It is one of about one hundred such photographs ever taken. Credit: ESA/NASA

Since then, direct observations have been rare which is somewhat strange if you ask me. Here is a real photograph taken by astronaut Andreas Mogensen from the International Space Station in 2015 after the crew was tasked with monitoring thunderstorms in search of the strange blue jet lightning phenomenon.

Our focus lately has been on the stars and anything beyond Earth and yet, we are often reminded that we have much more to learn about our own planet. Blue jet lightning is just one of the many examples.


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Genesis of blue lightning into the stratosphere detected from ISS. (2021, January 20).
Lanese, N. (2021, January 22). Upward-shooting ‘blue jet’ lightning spotted from International Space Station.
Neubert, T., Chanrion, O., Heumesser, M., Dimitriadou, K., Husbjerg, L., Rasmussen, I., . . . Reglero, V. (2021, January 20). Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere.
Temming, M. (2021, January 21). Space station detectors found the source of weird ‘blue jet’ lightning.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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