Andreas Mogensen discusses spectacular lightning bolts at DTU

Friday 04 Dec 15


Torsten Neubert
Chief Consultant
DTU Space
+4545 25 97 31

Video from the event

See the entire event with Andreas Mogensen at DTU  


Facts about THOR and ASIM

Read more about THOR
Read more about ASIM
For the first time since his return from space, Andreas Mogensen met with researchers from DTU and the Danish Meteorological Institute at a major event at DTU with an audience of 1,400 spectators.

By Tore Vind Jensen og Christina Tækker

He has travelled 400 km into space and back again. On Friday 27 November 2015, Andreas Mogensen went on stage in front of 1,400 university students, high school students, and researchers at DTU to talk about giant lightning bolts and thunderclouds.

Among the large number of experiments Andreas Mogensen performed at the International Space Station (ISS) was the THOR project. He managed to film a spectacular thunderstorm near the coast of India in the Indian Ocean, where he captured a so-called Blue Jet—a lightning bolt that can shoot upwards to an altitude of 50 km.

But that was not all. For the first time ever, you can see it pulsating—i.e. firing upwards several times in quick succession. This is the effect often seen in ordinary lightning bolts as they strike.

Lightning bolts and flashes everywhere

"It was impossible not to detect this storm, because it was so huge that I had no idea where to point my camera. There were lightning bolts and flashes everywhere, and I was just trying to shoot as much as I could," says Andreas Mogensen.

"Even though I wasn't fully aware of what I had seen, I had a good sense that I had captured something exciting. I also asked the other astronauts whether they had seen anything like it, which they hadn't. I quickly sent the film back home to Earth."

On Earth, the film was received by Torsten Neubert, Senior Executive Officer at DTU Space. He had never seen anything like it either. So at the moment, he is analysing the photos together with his colleagues to learn more about how thunderstorms impact the climate.

Exactly what we hoped
"The video and the photos from Andreas are exactly what we hoped to see. They show that lightning bolts from the thunderclouds just below the edge of the stratosphere are able to draw water vapour several kilometres up into the stratosphere. When it reaches the stratosphere, it remains there for quite some time. And because water vapour is a greenhouse gas, it affects the climate," says Torsten Neubert and continues:

"The primary aim of Andreas Mogensen's THOR mission was to test processes and procedures to see whether the concept is sound, and he has succeeded. But we have also found scientific 'gold' in the photos which will provide us with completely new knowledge."

The next step is to link Andreas Mogensen's photos to lightning data and cloud measurements from standard weather satellites, so that it will be possible to estimate the height of the clouds and thereby also their proximity to the stratosphere. The research will be further supported by the ASIM project, which is a large instrument package that is to be flown to the International Space Station in spring 2017 to measure lightning bolts above thunderclouds.


Interview with Andreas Mogensen:

English subtitles available