we hide the storms? Beyond the lightning and thunder, the rage of heaven cause of many of the phenomena that the satellite Taranis, in the assembly phase at Cnes (Centre national d’études spatiales) of Toulouse, will have the mission to observe from space at the end of 2019.

It will be the first space mission dedicated to the study of these phenomena discovered in the 1990s. They are “much broader than what we imagine”, says Christophe Bastien-Thiry, leader of the project Taranis, fully funded by the Cnes to the tune of about 110 million euros. By studying these Events in Light of the Transitional agreement (FTA), satellite of 185 kg, of which the name is borrowed from the god of the Sky and the storm in the celtic mythology of the gauls, will help military aviation and, perhaps, learn more about antimatter.

elves above thunderstorms

The French satellite will be assigned, for example, to observe the “elves”, a phenomenon that consists of a halo of light in rapid expansion, located a few hundred kilometers altitude, above the storm clouds. Blue, white or red depending on the altitude, the “sprites” -much more rare – form a veritable fireworks display of light as filament, which may be observed during a few milliseconds.

In near-polar orbit at 600 km altitude, the satellite will cover in 36 hours the entire planet. It will save a maximum of this activity of light, thanks to 4 photometers and 10 micro-cameras it is equipped with. The three instruments will also be responsible for recording the bursts of electromagnetic waves that accompany TLE: according to Christophe Bastien-Thiry, they would be carrying “valuable information on the origin of these phenomena”.

Flying above a nuclear explosion

“This mission is quite ambitious by the number of onboard instruments and by the coverage of the spectrum of physical, that goes from the visible, the radiation from gamma photons”, stressed the researcher.

Because in addition to the light signals, the scientists found another type of phenomenon above thunderstorms: “in certain conditions, a storm will behave like a particle accelerator and generate a burst of ultra-short gamma photons”, explains the scientist. This “flash terrestrial gamma” (TGF) is similar in intensity to the power of a nuclear explosion, but over a time much more brief.

Although natural, this phenomenon is no less “disturbing,” notes Christophe Bastien-Thiry, because it represents “a potential danger to equipment or personnel” of private jets or military aviation, which, unlike aircraft, can sometimes fly over these storms.

Between two and four years of activity

The atomic energy Commissariat (CEA), at the initiative of the project, hopes to collect data on these radiations, even if they “can not be used directly for nuclear weapons”, says the researcher.

Overall, the expedition will be an opportunity for researchers and the AEC to pursue, “pure knowledge of the thermal machine and climate is the Earth”, and learn perhaps more about antimatter. Because scientists are adamant to antimatter, the exact opposite of matter, accompanied by the emission of bursts of gamma. It is recognizable thanks to the emission of a photon with an energy very well known physicists” when it annihilates in contact with matter.

French% to 90%, the project Taranis involves researchers Polish, czechs, or americans (Stanford and Nasa). The satellite should be launched at the end of 2019 from Kourou (French Guiana) as a passenger auxiliary of a larger satellite Spanish. The mission will last between two and four years, before that Taranis is only désorbitation and takes ten years to burn in the earth’s atmosphere.


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