Friday, April 16, 2010

Cassini Captures First Space Lightning Video

The Cassini spacecraft has managed to capture a series of images showing lightning flashes on the night side of Saturn. Astronomers put these images together and were able to construct the first ever video of lightning strikes on another planet. But that's not at all. NASA researchers also extracted the radio waves that the lightning bolts gave off, and were able to add a soundtrack to the movie.

"This is the first time we have the visible lightning flash together with the radio data," said Georg Fischer, a radio and plasma wave scientist at the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria.

The difficulty with seeing lightning on Saturn is the visual obstruction caused by the planet's rings which reflect sunlight and obscure the flashed from storms on the surface. The first images capturing lightning on Saturn were taken in August 2009 during a storm that lasted from January to October of that year. The images used for the video were much brighter and were taken during a later storm in November 2009. The areas lit by the lightning flashes are approximately 300 km in diameter. The 11 second clip below (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/University of Iowa) is the first time humanity has ever captured video footage of lightning storms on another planet:

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