Cover page in Science for ASIM results

Today, the paper (Neubert & Østgaard, et al., 2020) on the discovery about gamma ray flashes from ASIM is promoted on the cover page of Science. It is more than 10 years since a group in Norway received similar recognition, when a paper about asymmetries in the northern and southern lights (Laundal & Østgaard, 2009) had a front page in Nature.

Science and Nature are the two most recognized scientific journals in the natural sciences. There is intense competition among researchers from all over the world to have their scientific results published in these two journals. Of more than 30 000 submitted papers each year, only around 2 700 are published in Science. Promotion on the cover page is even more prestigious. Each week the Chief Editor of Science chooses only one scientific result that he would like to promote on the cover page of the printed journal.

Today, we have managed to reach all the way to the top among all hopeful researchers in the world. It is a great tribute and international recognition to the whole ASIM team, the Birkeland Centre for Space Science, and the international research field of terrestrial gamma ray flashes.

Today’s Science paper used observations from the Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) experiment onboard the International Space Station (ISS). For the first time a gamma ray flash was observed in association with an elve. Elves are expanding rings of visible and ultraviolet light that vanish in less than a millisecond above thunderstorms. They are thought to be created by an electromagnetic pulse emitted from the lightning interacting with the ionosphere. The new data confirms that gamma ray flashes occur at the onset of a lightning pulse, which generates an elve in the early stage of a lightning flash. The measurements suggest that the current onset is fast, a prerequisite for elves, and that the gamma ray flashes are generated in electric fields associated with the lightning leader (as shown in this animation).

Terrestrial gamma ray flashes were accidentally discovered in 1994 by an instrument onboard the NASA Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was designed to look for gamma ray flashes in deep space. Later research has found that a gamma ray flash happens within milliseconds of a lightning flash, but their cause has remained a mystery. Still terrestrial gamma ray flashes are known as the most energetic naturally-produced phenomena on Earth, with photon energies reaching several tens of millions electron volts. Learning more about them—how they are created and how common they are—is important for fine-tuning models of Earth’s energy balance, which is essential for making accurate climate projections.

This achievement would not have been possible without the substantial support over many years by:

  • The European Space Agency ELIPS program, through contracts with TERMA and Danish Technical University in Denmark, University of Bergen in Norway, and University of Valencia in Spain
  • The European Space Agency PRODEX program, through several contracts with Danish Technical University in Denmark and University of Bergen in Norway
  • MINECO Research Grants, through several contracts with University of Valencia in Spain
  • The European Union Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie program
  • The European Research Council under the European Union’s FP7 program, through an Advanced Grant award to Nikolai Østgaard at the University of Bergen
  • The Research Council of Norway (Birkeland Centre for Space Science, Centre of Excellence contract)
  • The University of Bergen, Department of Physics and Technology
  • The Norwegian Space Agency

The cover page of Science and the article on the recent discovery about gamma ray flashes are available here.