Sprite observations from the space shuttle during the Mediterranean Israeli dust experiment (MEIDEX)

Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel
Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics (Impact Factor: 1.47). 03/2003; 65(5):635-642. DOI: 10.1016/S1364-6826(02)00332-2


The Mediterranean Israeli dust experiment (MEIDEX) flew on-board the space shuttle in winter 2003, in a 39°-inclination orbit for 16 days, passing over the major thunderstorm regions on Earth. The primary science instrument of the MEIDEX payload is a Xybion IMC-201 image-intensified radiometric camera with six narrow band filters, boresighted with a wide-FOV color video camera. During the nightside of the orbit there will be dedicated observations toward the Earth's limb above areas of active thunderstorms, in an effort to image transient luminous events (TLEs) from space. Optical observations from space will be conducted with the filter that matches the observed wide peak centered at that typifies red sprites, and also with the 380 and filters for recording blue jets. Observations will consist of a continuous recording of the Earth's limb, from the direction of the dusk terminator towards the nightside. Areas of high convective activity will be forecasted and uplinked to the crew before the observation. The astronaut will direct the camera toward areas with lightning activity, observed visually through the windows and on monitors in the crew cabin. Simultaneously with the optical observations from space, dedicated ground measurements will be conducted on a global scale. Two field sites in the Negev Desert in Israel will be used to collect electromagnetic data in the ELF and VLF frequency range. Additional ground stations in Germany, Hungary, USA, Antarctica, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Taiwan and Japan will also record Schumann resonance and VLF signals. The coordinated measurements from various locations on Earth and from space will enable us to triangulate the location and determine the polarity and charge moment of the parent lightning of the optically observed TLEs. The success of the campaign will further clarify the geographical distribution of Sprites, Elves and Jets.

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Available from: Yoav Yair, Oct 24, 2015
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    • "The observation was performed by a Xybion radiometric camera model IMC-201 which was the main science instrument in the MEIDEX (Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment) (Yair et al. 2003) conducted on-board the space shuttle Columbia STS- 107 flight in January 2003. The shuttle orbit was in 39° inclination at 278 km altitude. "
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    ABSTRACT: The glory observed from space for the first time during the the last flight of the space shuttle Columbia. The glory was an atmospheric optical phenomenon that was observed as concentric colored circles around the antisolar point. The observation was performed by a Xybion radiometric camera model IMC-201, the main science instrument in the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) on board the space shuttle Columbia STS-107 flight in January 2003. The camera was equipped with a rotating filter wheel with six narrow-band filters. The central wavelengths were 340, 380, 470, 555, 665, and 860 nm, while the full widths at half maximum of these six filters were 4, 4, 30, 30, 50, and 40 nm. The camera was equipped with a 50-mm Hamamatsu UV lens that was adjusted with a special baffle to mitigate stray light from entering the optics. The video format of the IMC-201 camera was National Television System Committee (NTSC), enabling it to produce its video output at 30 frames per second.
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    • "Sprites are transient optical emissions in the mesosphere above thunderstorms with durations from a few ms to a few hundred ms (Sentman et al., 1995; Lyons, 1996; Yair et al., 2003). Sprites appear to stretch between the altitude ranges of 40–90 km with a horizontal extent of tens of km, and emit primarily red light due to collisions of accelerated electrons with nitrogen molecules and have a brightness of up to $1 MR (Mende et al., 1995; Hampton et al., 1996; Heavner et al., 2000; Williams, 2001; Moudry et al., 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: During the northern hemisphere winter of 2005–2006, transient luminous events (TLEs) known as ‘sprites’ and ‘elves’ were imaged over thunderstorm cells in the eastern Mediterranean. Simultaneously, extremely low frequency (ELF) data (ELF: 3–3000 Hz) were recorded at two observation stations in Israel and Hungary in order to qualify and quantify parameters of the parent lightning discharge associated with the transient optical emissions in the upper atmosphere. In this study, we found that for 87% (Israel) and 77% (Hungary) of optically observed TLEs an intense ELF transient event was recorded. These stations are located some 500 and 2100 km, respectively, from the region of the TLEs. All ELF transients that were associated with TLEs were caused by lightning discharges with positive polarity. Calculation of the charge moment change showed values between 600 and 2800 C km with a peak around 1000 C km. Additionally, the time delay between the +CG and ensuing sprite was 76±34 ms and it was displaced up to 50 km from its parent CG.One of our objectives in the present study was to characterize, based on the ELF radiation from lightning, the electromagnetic (EM) waveforms of the lightning discharges which generate TLEs in the time and frequency domains, and to compare them with other lightning discharges occurring in the same thunderstorm cell at approximately the same time, but which did not produce TLEs. The survey for a typical EM waveform showed no unique ELF signature for lightning discharges associated with either sprites or elves.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2007 · Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
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    • "The data used in this research is the result of a series of lightning observations, performed within the framework of the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) Sprite-campaign conducted in January 2003 on board the space shuttle Columbia (Yair et al., 2003). When searching for Transient Luminous Events (TLEs; see (Israelevich et al., 2004; Yair et al., 2004; Yair et al., 2005), we noticed the semi-cyclic pattern mentioned by Vonnegut et al. (1985), and clearly observed how distant thunderstorm cells seemed to "ignite" each other in a repeating sequence, with periods of quiet and diminished activity in between active ones. "
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    ABSTRACT: Visual observations by space shuttle astronauts have described a phenomenon in which spatially distant thunderstorm cells seem to reciprocally “ignite” lightning flashes in a semi-cyclic sequence. Lightning occurring in one cell is immediately followed by lightning in other cells, separated by tens or hundreds of kilometers. We present quantitative analysis of lightning observations conducted within the framework of the MEIDEX-sprite campaign on board the space shuttle Columbia in January 2003 [Yair, Y., Israelevich, P., Devir, A., Moalem, M., Price, C., Joseph, J., Levin, Z., Ziv, B., Teller, A., 2004. New sprites observations from the space shuttle. Journal of Geophysical Research 109, D15201/10.1029/2003JD004497]. Video footage of 6 storm systems with varying flash rates, which occurred over Africa, South America, Australia and the Pacific Ocean were analyzed. It is found that when the storm flash rate was high, lightning activity in horizontally remote electrically active cells became clustered, with bursts of nearly simultaneous activity separated by quiet periods. The recurrence time was ∼2.5 s, close to the previously reported time delay between consecutive ELF transient signals in the Schumann resonance range [Füllekrug, M., 1995. Schumann resonances in magnetic filed components. Journal of Atmospheric and Terresterial Physics 57, 479–484]. We propose that this behavior is similar to the collective dynamics of a network of weakly coupled limit-cycle oscillators [Strogatz, S.H., 2000, From Kuramoto to Crawford: exploring the onset of synchronization in populations of coupled oscillators. Physica, D, 1–20]. Thunderstorm cells embedded within a mesoscale convective system (MCS) constitute such a network, and their lightning frequency is best described in terms of phase-locking of a globally coupled array [Kourtchatov, S.Y., Yu, V.V., Likhanskii, V.V., Napartovitch, A.P., Arecchi, F.T., Lapucci, A., 1995 Theory of phase locking of globally coupled laser arrays. Phys. Rev. A 52, 4089–4094]. Comparison of basic parameters of the lightning networks with predictions of random-graph models reveals that the networks cannot be described by the classical random-graph model [Erdos, P., Renyi, A., 1960. On the evolution of random graphs. Publ. Math. Inst. Hung. Acad. Sci., 5, 17–61], but are more compatible with generalized random-graphs with a prescribed degree distribution [Newman, M.E.J., Strogatz, S.H., Watts, D.J., 2001. Random graphs with arbitrary degree distributions and their applications. Phys. Rev. E 64, 026118] that exhibit a high clustering coefficient and small average path lengths. Such networks are capable of supporting fast response, synchronization and coherent oscillations [Lago-Fernandez, L.F., Huerta, R., Corbacho, F., Siguenza, J.A., 2000. Fast response and temporal coherent oscillations in small-world networks. Physical Review Letters 84, 2758–2761]. Several physical mechanisms are suggested to explain the observed phenomenon.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2006 · Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
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