Mysterylights Group Message 0267

Subject: Fwd = Orbiting astronaut sees mystery lights
From: Frits Westra <fw-nx@...>
Date: 01 Nov 2003 22:11

Orbiting astronaut sees mystery lights,9865,1073527,00.html

Thursday October 30, 2003
The Guardian

Astronaut Ed Lu returned on Monday from a six-month tour as science 
officer on the international space station with loads of memories and at 
least one nagging puzzle: what caused the mysterious flashes of light he 
saw while studying the Earth's aurora from orbit?

Lu, who was a research astrophysicist before becoming an astronaut in 
1994, estimates that he spent 100 hours watching the northern and southern 
lights during half a year in space. The auroral light show, which takes 
place well below the station's 380km altitude, shimmers and pulses 
depending on natural variations in incoming solar particles trapped by the 
Earth's magnetic field.

On three occasions - July 11, September 24 and October 12 - Lu saw 
something markedly different: flashes as bright as the brightest stars, 
which lasted only a second then blinked off again. In one instance, he 
called crew-mate Yuri Malenchenko over to the window to see the bursts. Lu 
says they appeared very different from the random but harmless retinal 
flashes that many astronauts experience when heavy cosmic rays hit their 

Given his limited time and ability to research the problem in space, Lu 
has tried to rule out other obvious explanations. The flashes weren't like 
sun glint from dust particles outside the station, which rotate and last 
longer than a second. Nor were they meteors, which look like linear 
streaks. Viewing conditions were wrong for a satellite or other artificial 
object. They only appeared in the direction of the aurora. And Lu checked 
weather maps, which showed no lightning storms below at the time of his 
observations. All of which leads him to the tentative conclusion that he 
saw some previously unreported pheno-menon associated with the aurora. © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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