Thomas Pesquet is known as an astronaut and the current commander of the ISS. And for us photographers, his stunning photos from the orbit are especially interesting. He recently captured a rare event named transient luminous event (TLE), also called “upper-atmospheric lightning.” Not only it’s not common to see it from Earth, but how often can you see it from space?
A TLE is basically a thunder strike in the upper atmosphere, as Pesquet explains on Flickr, adding that it happens very rarely. It’s an atmospheric event that takes place well above the altitudes of usual clouds and storms we get to see.
🌩A single frame from a timelapse over #Europe, showing a transient luminous event in the upper atmosphere! We have a 🇩🇰-led facility monitoring these events thanks in part to @Astro_Andreas who took the first picture of them from space! ⚡ https://t.co/tfFS3KqYmm #MissionAlpha pic.twitter.com/XqBdJ64pBq
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) October 7, 2021
“We have a facility outside Europe’s Columbus laboratory dedicated to observing these flashes of light,” Pesquet writes. “The Space Station is extremely well suited for this observatory as it flies over the equator where there are more thunderstorms.”
What Pesquet finds fascinating about this type of lightning is that until relatively recently they were observed as merely a legend. “Just a few decades ago they had been observed anecdotally by pilots and scientists were not convinced they actually existed,” Pesquet explains. “Fast forward a few years and we can confirm [ELVESs], and sprites are very real and could be influencing our climate too!”
Thanks to the advancement in technology and higher availability of cameras, there have been records of this rare event before. Andreas Mogensen was the first to capture shoot it from space, and he did it in only ten days on the ISS, according to Pesquet.