The ‘blue jets’ or blue rays have amazed humanity since they found the technology to fly through the heights. From above, the perspective of the celestial dome is completely different; it is like admiring from outside a gigantic bubble with a life of its own and dynamics that surprise anyone. Among them are the so-called ‘blue jets,’ which are rays of energy that travel and splash toward the outer layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.
What Are Blue Jets?
The atmosphere is composed of several layers through which there are varying arrangements of gas molecules interacting with different temperatures and wind currents. The result is a surprising dynamic in which different types of lightning are found. We have conventional lightning bolts that display their power during thunderstorms, and other types of red lightning called sprite lightning have also been described. But among these, blue jets are the most impetuous because of their blue-blasting energy.
Whether from an airplane or far beyond, aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a kind of blue jet can be observed rising from the stormy clouds into the stratosphere. These blue streams show their power in less than a second when they can travel more than 50 kilometers, and no, these are not conventional streams that we can admire from the Earth’s surface.
Unlike conventional rays that usually excite a mixture of gases in the lower atmosphere, which is what gives them their electric white color, blue jets or blue rays excite mainly stratospheric nitrogen, which gives them their characteristic bluish flash that can be seen from an airplane.
Blue Rays from the ISS
One of the most extraordinary images of blue jets was taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station in 2019, the first high-sharpness photograph of a blue jet. At the time, cameras and light-detecting instruments called photometers on the ISS were able to capture a jet of blue light in the middle of a storm over the Pacific Ocean, very close to Nauru Island. The bluish burst of energy was a flash of just 10 microseconds that shot out of the top of the cloud at about 16 kilometers high and extended into the stratosphere, reaching an average height of 52 kilometers.
Physicists believe that the spark that generated the blue lightning may have been a special type of short-range electrical discharge within the thunderstorm cloud. Conventional lightning is usually formed by discharges between regions of opposite charges between clouds or clouds and the ground, i.e. many kilometers apart. In contrast, the spark that generated the blue jet in the photograph is believed to have come from oppositely charged regions less than a kilometer apart, generating a very short but powerful burst of electric current as you can see in the images.
Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera