Lightning can't hide from powerful European Satellite. Lightning comes and goes in brilliant and terrifying flashes. With satellites in orbit, all that crackling static in the world's skies is being brought into view.

The latest visualization of atmospheric electricity comes from Meteosat Third Generation, a European Satellite launched in December. Its cameras can track and record lightning strikes, even the smallest and fastest ones, day and night.

It is the first of six planned satellites expected to track weather around the world.

The European Space Agency released the first batch of imagery from the Meteosat orbiter this month, showing flickers of lightning over regions of Western Europe, Africa and South America.

The satellite's Lightning Imager has four cameras each with five lenses. The cameras can capture a single flash of lightning that lasts as little as 0.6 milliseconds, much faster than the blink of an eye.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States has been tracking lightning in North and South America since 2017, using the Geostationary Lightning Mapper aboard the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, known as GOES.

The European system expands lightning detection to regions of Europe, Africa and the Middle East [ with overlapping coverage in parts of South America], and provides significant technological improvements that will yield a bounty of data for the world's weather forecasters.

'' First, we have better resolution, '' said Guia Pastorini, a project engineering manager at Leonardo S.p.A, the aerospace company that developed the imager on Meteosat.

'' We are able to detect even a single lightning bolt, while GOES can detect only a group of events. And in terms of energy, we can detect weaker lightning strikes.''

'' It's quite simple to identify lightning at night in the desert,'' Ms. Pastorini said. '' But if you look at lightning reflecting over the ocean or just during the daytime, it's much more difficult.''

The data from the imager will be useful in weather prediction, said Carlo Simoncelli, a program manager at Leonardo.

For instance, lightning is associated with tornadoes, and there is a large increase in lightning about a half-hour before a tornado. [ Nicholas Bakalar ]


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