NASA Lightning Research Happens in a Flash

Lightning's connection to hurricane intensification has eluded researchers for decades, and for a riveting 40 days this summer, NASA lightning researchers will peer inside storms in a way they never have before.

Earth scientists and engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will soon fly the Lightning Instrument Package, or LIP, a flight instrument designed to track and document lightning as hurricanes develop and intensify.

We're now putting LIP on an aircraft that can stay in the air for 30 hours," said Richard Blakeslee LIP principal investigator and Earth scientist at the the Marshall Center. "That’s unprecedented. We typically fly on airplanes that fly over a storm for a period of 10-15 minutes. But this plane can stay with a storm for hours."

"We'll be able to see a storm in a way we’ve never seen it before," he added. "We'll see how the storm develops over the long term, and how lightning varies with all the other things going on inside a hurricane. It's the difference between a single photograph and a full length movie. That’s quite a paradigm shift."

"We can use lightning as a natural sensing tool to see into the heart of a storm," said Blakeslee. "Lightning allows us to get at rain and other processes going on within a storm."