Thunderstorms on Earth can be terrifying things.
But from space those same events take on a beautiful, even ghostly edge.
A new time-lapse video from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) onboard the GOES-17 weather satellite, which launched to space on March 1, 2018, shows flashes of lightning above North and South America, zooming in on a line of storms moving east across the Central U.S.
Note: The mapper does more than just take pretty pictures of what’s happening back on Earth.
“The mapper observes lightning in the Western Hemisphere, giving forecasters an indication of when a storm is forming, intensifying, and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm may strengthen quickly and could produce severe weather,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement.
“During heavy rain, GLM data can show when thunderstorms are stalled or if they are gathering strength. When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data will help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner.”
GOES-17 isn’t the only satellite keeping an eye on lightning on Earth. The GOES-16 satellite also watches out for large thunderstorms rolling across the U.S. on behalf of weather forecasters and scientists on the ground.
And astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station are able to see thunderstorms from 250 miles above the planet’s surface. Over the years, the space station’s crew members have taken gorgeous time-lapse videos of thunder storms swirling below them.
Astronauts have also captured rare types of lightning from orbit, snapping photos and videos of “red sprites” — a phenomenon associated with intense thunderstorms that’s best seen from space.