Watch thousands of lightning strikes flash on UK and across the world as new European satellite launches

3 July 2023, 14:30 | Updated: 3 July 2023, 14:52

Thousands of lightning strikes can be seen for the first time
Thousands of lightning strikes can be seen for the first time. Picture: ESA/Eumetsat

By Kit Heren

Thousands of lightning strikes on the UK, Europe, South America and Africa have been caught on camera by Europe's first lightning imager.

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Flashes of lightning across the continents have been recorded by the Lightning Imager, which operates at 36,000km (22,400 miles) above the Earth.

The imager has four cameras covering Europe, Africa, the Middle East and parts of South America, and can capture as many as 1,000 images per second.

Now the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat) have released a series of animations that show the extent of lightning strikes across the continents.

The animations contain a sequence of images which the ESA has created by collecting one minute’s worth of lightning overlaid on a single image of the Earth.

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The UK and Ireland

Simonetta Cheli, director of Earth observation programmes at ESA, said: “The animations show the instrument’s ability to accurately and effectively detect lightning activity over the whole area of the cameras’ field of view, which covers 84% of the Earth disc."

The lightning data will help weather forecasters predict the weather, and researchers understand climate change. At the same time, the Lightning Imager "will also play a key role in air traffic safety, given that lightning poses a high risk to aircraft's onboard instrumentation," the ESA said.

Central Africa – the most active lightning region in the world

Eumetsat Director General, Phil Evans said: "Severe storms are often preceded by abrupt changes in lightning activity.

"By observing these changes in activity, Lightning Imager data will give weather forecasters additional confidence in their forecasts of severe storms."

East camera – full field of view

The Lightning Imager was built by Italian aerospace company Leonardo.

Project engineering manager Guia Pastorini said: "The Lightning Imager has four cameras and each one can capture 1000 images per second, day and night, detecting even a single lightning bolt faster than the blink of an eye.

South America

"Thanks to specific algorithms, data is processed on board to send only useful information to Earth, supporting the development of more accurate weather forecasts, as well as contributing to the study of weather phenomena and air transport safety.

"Together with ESA and Eumetsat, and coordinating an international industrial team, Leonardo has been working on this outstanding technology for ten years, and today we are very proud to present the images of the first European lightning hunter, the only in the world with these unique performances."

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