Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere

Torsten Neubert*, Olivier Chanrion, Matthias Heumesser, Krystallia Dimitriadou, Lasse Husbjerg, Ib Lundgaard Rasmussen, Nikolai Østgaard, Victor Reglero

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Blue jets are lightning-like, atmospheric electric discharges of several hundred millisecond duration that fan into cones as they propagate from the top of thunderclouds into the stratosphere1. They are thought to initiate in an electric breakdown between the positively charged upper region of a cloud and a layer of negative charge at the cloud boundary and in the air above. The breakdown forms a leader that transitions into streamers2 when propagating upwards3. However, the properties of the leader, and the altitude to which it extends above the clouds, are not well characterized4. Blue millisecond flashes in cloud tops5,6 have previously been associated with narrow bipolar events7,8, which are 10- to 30-microsecond pulses in wideband electric field records, accompanied by bursts of intense radiation at 3 to 300 megahertz from discharges with short (inferred) channel lengths (less than one kilometre)9,10,11. Here we report spectral measurements from the International Space Station, which offers an unimpeded view of thunderclouds, with 10-microsecond temporal resolution. We observe five intense, approximately 10-microsecond blue flashes from a thunderstorm cell. One flash initiates a pulsating blue jet to the stratopause (the interface between the stratosphere and the ionosphere). The observed flashes were accompanied by ‘elves’12 in the ionosphere. Emissions from lightning leaders in the red spectral band are faint and localized, suggesting that the flashes and the jet are streamer ionization waves, and that the leader elements at their origin are short and localized. We propose that the microsecond flashes are the optical equivalent of negative narrow bipolar events observed in radio waves. These are known to initiate lightning within the cloud and to the ground, and blue lightning into the stratosphere, as reported here.
    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number7842
    Pages (from-to)371-375
    Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Please note author correction:
    Neubert, T., Chanrion, O., Heumesser, M. et al. Author Correction: Observation of the onset of a blue jet into the stratosphere. Nature (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03348-y


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