As you might expect, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have an incredible perspective of the planet from their perch, and they occasionally see strange things. Earlier this month, astronauts noticed a mysterious blue glow across Europe.
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet noticed something similar and tweeted a picture of it, explaining the strange phenomenon seen above Europe. He described it as a “transient luminous event,” which is a “very rare occurrence.” This is a phenomenon that occurs when lightning strikes in the upper atmosphere at higher altitudes than usual.
“This is a very rare occurrence, and we have a facility outside Europe’s Columbus laboratory dedicated to observing these flashes of light,” Pesquet wrote on a Flickr post of the image. “The Space Station is extremely well suited for this observatory as it flies over the equator where there are more thunderstorms.”
The opportunity to investigate atmospheric occurrences that we’d never observe on Earth is one of the advantages of being on the ISS. These occurrences, occasionally given fictional monikers like elves and sprites, may affect our environment.
“What is fascinating about this lightning is that just a few decades ago, they had been observed anecdotally by pilots, and scientists were not convinced they actually existed,” Pesquet wrote on Flickr. “Fast forward a few years, and we can confirm elves and sprites are very real and could be influencing our climate too!”