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Video: European satellite captures lightning strikes

European satellite strikes lightning
Meteosat Third Generation weather satellites. Credit: ESA/Mlabspace, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The first ever satellite instrument capable of continuously detecting lightning across Europe and Africa has now been switched on. New animations from the innovative 'Lighting Imager' confirm the instrument will revolutionize the detection and prediction of severe storms.

ESA along with European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat) today have released the first animations from the Lightning Imager onboard the first Meteosat Third Generation satellite, which launched on 13 December 2022.

The Lightning Imager, built by Leonardo, can continuously detect rapid flashes of lighting in Earth's atmosphere whether day or night from a distance of 36 000 km. The instrument has four cameras covering Europe, Africa, the Middle East and parts of South America. Each camera can capture up to 1000 images per second and will continuously observe activity from space.

Each animation contains a sequence of images created by collecting one minute's worth of lightning measurements, overlaid on a single image of Earth from the Lightning Imager.

Data from the Lightning Imager will give greater confidence in their predictions of severe storms, particularly in remote regions and on the oceans where lightning detection capabilities are limited.

Simonetta Cheli, Director of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA, commented on the remarkable capabilities of the instrument: "The animations show the instrument's ability to accurately and effectively detect lightning activity over the whole area of the cameras' field of view, which covers 84% of the Earth disc.

"ESA and Eumetsat, together with European industrial partners, are ensuring the benefits of highly innovative new technology are felt by communities and sectors of the economy in Europe and beyond."

The Lightning Imager’s north camera faces Europe. The northernmost part of the field of view, that is, northern Scandinavia, never gets dark during the Northern Hemisphere summer. Local thunderstorms develop on a daily basis in southern Europe around the Mediterranean during the warmer part of the year. These storms form as the Sun heats up the ground during the day and they dissipate relatively quickly after sunset. Some much larger and more persistent tropical storm systems can be seen in west Africa in the bottom left corner of the video. The rest of Europe is mostly cloud-free as it was dominated by a large persistent high-pressure system when the data was collected. This animation was made using five days’ worth of data from the Meteosat Third Generation Lightning Imager’s north camera, from 00:00 UTC 2 June to 23:59 UTC 6 June 2023. It was made from raw preliminary data and is not for operational use. Credit: EUMETSAT/ESA

Detecting and analyzing lightning data will provide valuable support to the study of short-term weather forecasts and to understanding the consequences of such phenomena on . At the same time, the Lightning Imager will also play a key role in air traffic safety, given that lightning poses a high risk to aircraft's onboard instrumentation.

Eumetsat Director General, Phil Evans, commented, "Severe storms are often preceded by abrupt changes in lightning activity. By observing these changes in activity, Lightning Imager data will give weather forecasters additional confidence in their forecasts of severe storms.

"When these data are used in conjunction with the high-resolution data from the Flexible Combined Imager, weather forecasters will be better able to track the development of severe storms and have a longer lead-in time to warn authorities and communities."

Leonardo Project Engineering Manager for the Lightning Imager, Guia Pastorini, added, "The Lightning Imager has four cameras and each one can capture 1000 images per second, day and night, detecting even a single lightning bolt faster than the blink of an eye.

"Thanks to specific algorithms, data is processed on board to send only useful information to Earth, supporting the development of more accurate weather forecasts, as well as contributing to the study of weather phenomena and air transport safety.

"Together with ESA and Eumetsat, and coordinating an international industrial team, Leonardo has been working on this outstanding technology for 10 years, and today we are very proud to present the images of the first European lightning hunter, the only in the world with these unique performances."

While the animations are a first initial result from the Lightning Imager, the Meteosat Third Generation Imager is currently undergoing its commissioning phase during which the instruments are calibrated and the data is validated. Data from the Lightning Imager will be available for operational use in early-2024 at an increased sensitivity.

Central Africa is recognised as the most active lightning region on the planet. This five-day animation shows the continuous lightning activity in the region. Most of the time, especially during the afternoon and evening hours, thunderstorms cover a considerable part of the area. Both localised storms – small, isolated regions of lightning activity – and large mesoscale convective systems – large clusters and long narrow bands of lightning activity – can be seen. The storms are moving gradually westwards in the general easterly airflow, a characteristic of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Sun glint can be seen moving in the top-right corner of the animation every day before noon. This animation, zooming in on central Africa, was made using data from the Meteosat Third Generation Lightning Imager’s east camera, from 00:00 UTC 7 June to 23:59 UTC 11 June 2023. It was made from raw preliminary data and is not for operational use. Credit: EUMETSAT/ESA

The MTG satellites are built by a large consortium of European industries, led by Thales Alenia Space in cooperation with OHB. The innovative Lightning Imager was developed by Leonardo in Italy, while Telespazio provides Eumetsat with launch and in-orbit services.

More information: MTG Lightning Imager animations: … ng_Imager_animations

Citation: Video: European satellite captures lightning strikes (2023, July 5) retrieved 11 December 2023 from
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