Technology

Space has its own storm hunter

A new scientific observatory, the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM), also known as the “Space Storm Hunter”, was placed at the International Space Station (ISS). The observatory weighs 314 kilos and is transferred to the ISS on the last flight of Space X’s American Dragon Conveyor. Its placement in the appropriate position outside ISS was done by a 16-meter robotic arm.

ASIM will aim continually on Earth and observe lightning and other powerful electrical discharges into the atmosphere, which occur over storms, phenomena that have not been sufficiently studied to date.

The ISS is the ideal “balcony” to collect information about these phenomena as it moves about 400 kilometers above our planet and can see storms from above. ASIM data will be transmitted to the Earth via telecommunication satellites transmitted by the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency.

ASIM can capture images of the storms in the infrared and ultraviolet sections of the spectrum with both cameras and photometers, and also has X-ray and gamma-ray detectors.

Storms are spectacular natural phenomena, but people from the surface of the Earth can only see part of what is actually happening. In the upper part of the atmosphere, in the messosphere and in the stratosphere, strange, if not mysterious things take place for which there is no sure scientific explanation.

These unusual “transient luminous events”, as they were said, were accidentally observed for the first time in 1989 when an American scientist who tested a television camera “caught” over a distant cloud of storm light columns, the light which resembled thunderbolts or ups and downs.

The discovery then surprised the scientists, as the ASIM chief scientist, Torsten Novbert of the National Institute of Space of the Danish Technological University, told BBC. As he said, “it really surprises us all. How could this have happened and not know it? There were until then only some anecdotal reports by airplane pilots. ”

By the way, these electrical discharges, which do not last more than a few milliseconds but can be several tens of kilometers in length, have been named elfs such as “sprites”, “blue jets” (the most mysterious) and “elves” and understandably). These exact “exotic” phenomena will be studied by ASIM, whose mission will last for at least two years.

The sprites, caused in the mesosphere by electrical discharges in the mesosphere, at a height of 50 to 100 kilometers, resemble red jellyfish whose tentacles are laid down. Blue jets start from the top of the clouds and spread to the higher levels of the atmosphere to the stratosphere. The first to record a “blue jet” was ESA’s astronaut Andreas Mogensen in 2015 from ISS.

Higher than all, to the ionosphere at the boundary between atmosphere-space, elves arrive, which are in the form of concentric cycles of light, often start like a weak glow and extend within a radius of up to 400 kilometers.

In addition, these powerful electric discharges and electric fields in the clouds accelerate electrons at such speeds and in so many numbers that they often generate X and C rays, something that will also be studied thanks to the new space observatory.

Every second, about 45 lightning strikes appear in the Earth’s atmosphere, while strong chemical reactions alter the composition of the atmosphere in and around the stormy clouds. As the lightning strikes affect the concentrations of many atmospheric gases, they also play an important role in shaping the climate, which will also be the subject of a scientific study.

In addition, ASIM’s comments will improve understanding of scientists about the effects of sandblasts, urban pollutants, forest fires and volcanic ash for cloud formation and lightning.