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Hunting elves, sprites, blue jets, and gamma ray flashes from the ISS

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On April 13, 2018, B.USOC operators received the first telemetries of the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) after its successful installation outside of the European Columbus module of the International Space Station. With its two instruments, MMIA capturing infrared and ultraviolet images and MXGS detecting the sources of x- and gamma-rays, ASIM will give insight into the luminous phenomena that take place over violent thunderstorms (elves, sprites, blue jets, and terrestrial gamma ray bursts). Since then, B.USOC is operating ASIM continuously and transfers its data to the scientists.
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Lightning discharges occur 40-100 times a second on Earth, the more severe ones arising in cumulonimbus clouds. Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered that discharge phenomena also occur in the upper atmosphere up to the ionosphere:

  • gigantic blue jets
  • reddish jellyfish-like discharges (called red sprites)
  • expanding circular halos (called elves)

These Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) last from less than a millisecond to more than 2 seconds. In addition, thundercloud activities are also associated with bursts of X- and gamma rays.

The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) has been developed and installed outside ESA Columbus module to observe and study this wide variety of phenomena and improve our understanding of the thunderstorm impacts on the atmosphere and possibly on the climate. The ASIM study is conducted by an international science team of more than 80 research groups from 30 countries coordinated by Prof. Torsten Neubert from the Technical University of Denmark.

B.USOC as the central interface

The Belgian User Support and Operation Centre being the ESA Facility Responsible Centre for ASIM is in charge of the operations preparation, the tele-commanding and monitoring of the instruments, and the data transfer to the scientists. Hence, B.USOC is the interface between the scientists, the payload developer and the control centres of Columbus and ISS.

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Figure 2 caption (legend)
Illustration of the different kinds of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) occurring above thunderstorms in the upper atmosphere.
Credit: IAA-CSIC
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Figure 3 caption (legend)
Image of European Columbus space laboratory taken on November 10, 2018, by the External High Definition Camera
Credit: ESA
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