New evidence for the brightness and ionization of blue starters and blue jets


  • E. M. Wescott,

  • D. D. Sentman,

  • H. C. Stenbaek-Nielsen,

  • P. Huet,

  • M. J. Heavner,

  • D. R. Moudry


Blue jets and blue starters are partially ionized luminous cones of primarily blue light that propagate upward out of the top of thunderstorms at speeds of order 100 km s−1. Blue jets propagate up ∼40 km, but blue starters, which resemble blue jets, terminate abruptly after only a few kilometers of upward travel. Theories on the origin of blue jets have proposed that they are due to either positive or negative streamers or runaway electrons. Quantitative analysis of new multi-instrument observations of a blue starter from an aircraft during the Energetics of Upper Atmospheric Excitation by Lightning, 1998 (EXL98) campaign of July 1998, shows that the ionization accounts for ∼3% of the observed intensity. Quantitative analysis of a remarkable color photograph of a blue jet taken from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean shows that the minimum optical energy deposition was ∼0.5 MJ. The same photograph shows details of streamers never before seen.