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Small Satellite Takes on Large Thunderstorms - Windows to the Universe

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Firefly is a new mission to study lightning and gamma rays with CubeSats, small satellites in the shape of a cube.
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Image Courtesy of NASA/GSFC

Small Satellite Takes on Large Thunderstorms
News story originally written on November 17, 2008

Scientists and students have designed a new satellite called Firefly. This satellite is the size of a loaf of bread and is designed to help solve the mystery of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs).

TGFs are short, powerful bursts of gamma rays sent into space from Earth's upper atmosphere. Scientists think the gamma rays are released by electrons which travel at or near the speed of light until they are slowed down by atoms in the upper atmosphere. This process might have connections with some lightning and thunderstorms on Earth.

Scientists know that lightning builds up electric charges at the top of thunder clouds, and this can create a large electric field between the tops of clouds and the outer layer of the atmosphere. But they are trying to learn more about how this process can create TGFs.

Firefly will carry instruments that detect gamma-rays and lightning. Students will be involved in all aspects of the project, including design, development, testing, mission operations, and data analysis.

Last modified December 11, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF