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Lightning is an electrical discharge between positive and negative regions of a thunderstorm and can be deadly if the necessary precautions are not taken.
Researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) design, construct, and deploy instruments that detect and study lightning to better understand its characteristics, which in turn improve storm predictions.

Lightning Research

Lightning research has come a long way in the past few decades. We now have a better understanding of why lightning occurs and where, what lightning patterns exist over the globe, and what lightning tells us about atmospheric convection. Lightning continues to be studied by scientists and engineers who use a variety of instruments. There are new instruments and different instruments viewing the same events allowing for assessment of instrument measurement characteristics and capabilities. For example, the newGeostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-16 is being validated using data from a GOES-R field campaign that took place in 2017. Multiple ground and airborne instruments viewed severe weather at the same time as GLM.

The primary objectives of lightning study include determining the relationship between the electrical characteristics of storms and precipitation, convection, and severe weather. Instruments of various types have been designed, constructed, and deployed as ground-based, airborne, and space-based sensors capable of lightning detection and characterization, to study the electrical behavior of thunderstorms.

The data collected are routinely shared with scientists around the globe, resulting in numerous advancements in the field of Atmospheric Science. Links to detailed dataset information, descriptions of field campaigns and satellite measurements, and access to the Lightning Primer, a beginner's guide to lightning are provided above.

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Global Lightning Image

Global lightning strikes from January 1998 to April 2015 from the NASA/MSFC Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite.

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