ESEIAAT-UPC researchers participate in space mission to study gigantic lightning jets

+
Download

Images of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule, containing the ASIM instrument, which will dock with the International Space Station

+
Download

Schematic representation of the ASIM space mission

+
Download

Images of sprites (TLE)

+
Download

On the left, Joan Montanyà, head of the UPC’s LRG research group; on the right, Victor Reglero, head of the Spanish group and UV researcher

The Lightning Research Group (LRG) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), based on the Terrassa Campus, is participating in the ASIM space mission to observe, record and analyse the most violent electrical storms that occur in the atmosphere. The aim is to verify data collected by an observatory installed on the International Space Station (ISS), which will measure high-energy terrestrial emissions in the atmosphere, by comparing it to data obtained by the UPC at various points around the planet.

Apr 09, 2018

ASIM is an acronym for Atmosphere Space Interactions Monitor, a European Space Agency (ESA) scientific mission that aims to improve models for studying the climate and quantify the effect of the most violent electrical and chemical processes – Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (TGFs) and Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) – that take place between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere, above thunderstorms. The mission involves scientists from Denmark, Norway and Spain, where the project is led by researcher Víctor Reglero of the University of Valencia. Other participants in Spain are the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, which belongs to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA). At the UPC, the project is coordinated by Joan Montanyà, a member of the Lightning Research Group, which has been awarded €2 million in funding for the project by the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (MINECO).

The UPC team is made up of researchers and professors from the Terrassa School of Industrial, Aerospace and Audiovisual Engineering (ESEIAAT). In order to participate in the ASIM mission, extremely high-precision recording equipment (unique in Europe) has been installed at various locations, such as the Ebro River Delta, Santa Marta and the island of San Andrés (in Colombia), and the island of Curaçao (in the Antilles). The equipment is used to observe, record and analyse sprites and gigantic jets. These phenomena – large-scale electrical discharges generated between the top of storm clouds and the ionosphere – can reach an altitude of 90 km.

Data obtained by UPC researchers will be checked against data collected by ASIM – an observatory of ultra-violet rays, X-rays and gamma rays – on a mission launched by NASA on 2 April (from Cape Canaveral). The monitoring instrument will be mounted on the external platform of the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS) to observe the Earth’s atmosphere. Specifically, it will measure severe thunderstorms, water vapour, clouds, aerosols, and how they interact between the atmosphere and space.

To make ground-based observations for comparison with the data obtained by ASIM, the UPC’s LRG group has state-of-the-art equipment, consisting of three intensified high-speed cameras that can capture over 100,000 images per second.

The UPC research group is a pioneer in the study of lightning in Europe. Since 2001, its members have been studying thunderstorm conditions, lightning activity, and how they are related to TGFs and TLEs. From their lab, they obtain high-speed video images of lightning, sprites and gigantic jets. This information is combined with data from the Lightning Mapping Array (LMA), which makes it possible to reproduce the behaviour of electrical activity on the ground in 3-D in order to study lightning mechanisms related to the dynamics of high-energy X-ray and gamma ray discharges of very short duration (TGFs and TLEs).

Unlocking scientific mysteries
According to Joan Montanyà, director of the Lightning Research Group, “the data obtained by the ASIM mission will be very valuable in the study of climate change, the greenhouse effect and severe storms.” The data will also be very useful “to develop new instruments that will allow researchers to analyse magnetic phenomena and unlock the mysteries behind the generation of many different electrical phenomena in the Earth’s atmosphere. People have been puzzled by the origin, nature and behaviour of these violent phenomena for many years,” he added.

More information: