NASA's Firestation on way to the International Space Station

August 6, 2013, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

An experiment to study the effects of lightning flashes on Earth's atmosphere hitched a ride to the International Space Station on Aug. 3, 2013. The Firestation experiment launched aboard a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's transfer vehicle called Kounotori-4. Firestation will be installed robotically to the outside of the space station, a process that will take about three weeks.

At the end of August, Firestation should be ready to begin observations, watching for lightning on Earth, which regularly appears some 50 times a second around the globe. Firestation will study the link between lightning and mysterious events known as terrestrial gamma ray flashes, or TGFs. TGFs are very brief but intense bursts of gamma rays produced in Earth's atmosphere by the powerful electrical charges over thunderstorms. Gamma radiation is typically produced only in extreme environments, like nuclear fusion inside the sun or from within distant , so this suggests the environment near a lightning flash is much more energetic and complex than previously thought. In addition to being a fascinating and unexpected aspect of our planet, TGFs also may shed light on the processes that trigger lightning in thunderstorms.

"We know that lightning might be intimately linked to these flashes of gamma rays, but we don't know the cause and effect mechanisms just yet," said Doug Rowland, principal investigator for Firestation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "So one of Firestation's goals is to study many TGF and lightning events to see what kinds of lightning produce and what kinds do not."

Current estimates suggest there may be some 500 TGFs worldwide every day, and Firestation will spend a year observing them.

Explore further: Firestation: Preparing to study lightning

Related Stories

Firestation: Preparing to study lightning

November 6, 2012

(Phys.org)—An experiment to study the effects of lightning flashes on Earth's atmosphere has taken its first steps on its journey to space. The Firestation experiment has undergone numerous tests to make sure it's ready ...

Researchers hope to shed light on dark lightning radiation

June 13, 2013

Scientists now know that thunderstorms, working as powerful natural terrestrial particle accelerators, produce intense flashes of ionizing radiation called "dark lightning." To further their understanding of this phenomena, ...

Firestation in space to open firehose of lightning data

October 19, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- When opportunity knocked, NASA heliophysicist Doug Rowland answered. He and his team recently secured another flight opportunity for a pint-sized instrument studying lightning in Earth's upper atmosphere ...

Scientists detect dark lightning linked to visible lightning

April 24, 2013

(Phys.org)—Researchers have identified a burst of high-energy radiation known as 'dark lightning" immediately preceding a flash of ordinary lightning. The new finding provides observational evidence that the two phenomena ...

Recommended for you

Oceans of garbage prompt war on plastics

December 15, 2018

Faced with images of turtles smothered by plastic bags, beaches carpeted with garbage and islands of trash floating in the oceans, environmentalists say the world is waking up to the need to tackle plastic pollution at the ...

A damming trend

December 14, 2018

Hundreds of dams are being proposed for Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. The negative social and environmental consequences—affecting everything from food security to the environment—greatly outweigh the positive ...

Data from Kilauea suggests the eruption was unprecedented

December 14, 2018

A very large team of researchers from multiple institutions in the U.S. has concluded that the Kilauea volcanic eruption that occurred over this past summer represented an unprecedented volcanic event. In their paper published ...

The long dry: global water supplies are shrinking

December 13, 2018

A global study has found a paradox: our water supplies are shrinking at the same time as climate change is generating more intense rain. And the culprit is the drying of soils, say researchers, pointing to a world where drought-like ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.