Photo: Annette Refn

Hans Christian Ørsted Research Award 2019 goes to DTU space scientist

Monday 12 Aug 19


Torsten Neubert
Chief Consultant
DTU Space
+45 45 25 97 31


The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) project is anchored with the European Space Agency, ESA.

DTU Space is in charge of the scientific management of ASIM and has built parts of the instruments. The Danish company Terma heads the technical part of the project and the industrial consortium which built it.

The Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) provides meteorological data and other data for the project. The Ministry of Higher Education and Science has supported the ASIM project, including through a special contribution from the globalization pool in the period 2009-2012 for climate initiatives via ESA.

In addition, University of Bergen in Norway, University of Valencia in Spain, as well as partners from Poland and Italy participate. ASIM also involves a number of international research groups.

Lightning scientist Torsten Neubert receives the Hans Christian Ørsted Research Award for his contribution to an understanding of how giant lightning bolts are created in space.

This year, the Hans Christian Ørsted Research Award of DKK 50,000 will go to DTU researcher Torsten Neubert, who works with lightning phenomena and heads the scientific part of the ASIM (Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor) space observatory. The project—which is Denmark's biggest space project to date—gives DTU researchers new and better understanding of how lightning is created above the clouds, and how thunderstorms affect the stratosphere and climate.

The purpose of the award is to pay tribute to H.C. Ørsted’s influence on culture, artists, thinkers, and scientists throughout the world by selecting award winners whose works can be connected with H.C. Ørsted’s name and life’s work, including in relation to dissemination of the genre.

In a press release from H.C. Ørsted Selskabet, the Chairman of the Award Committee—DTU Professor Jacob Østergaard—is pleased with the research award going to Torsten Neubert:
“Neubert is an internationally recognized researcher whose research is cited by researchers worldwide. He is also a brilliant communicator.”

The award ceremony will be held on H.C. Ørsted’s birthday on 14 August, where H.C. Ørsted Selskabet—with support from the Ørsted energy company—will present awards and travel grants. The award ceremony will be held in Rudkøbing on Langeland, where H.C. Ørsted was born. The award comes with a work of art created by the artist Sabine Majus Hansen.

“I see the award as a pat on the back for all those who’ve helped established ASIM. The initial ideas about the project began already 20 years ago. Throughout the years, many people have fought for the project, and sometimes it has been an uphill battle. It’s therefore fantastic to receive such a distinguished recognition,” says Torsten Neubert.

Foto: Morten Rasmussen
Photo: Morten Rasmussen

Several hundred flashes observed
The culmination of ASIM was reached last year when the space observatory was sent up to the International Space Station (ISS) with a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The purpose is to examine the violent thunderstorms and lightning bolts that occur above the clouds and map the invisible processes that drive them. One of the invisible processes is gamma flashes from lightning, a phenomenon known as Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs). ASIM is also examining energy discharges driven by thunderstorms in the area from the top of the clouds and 80 km up.
According to Torsten Neubert, the first measurements from ASIM show that gamma flashes in the atmosphere are created at the moment in which a lightning bolt short-circuits electric potentials in the clouds. The emitted flashes contain X-ray radiation which is 1,000 times more powerful than when an X-ray is taken at the dentist.

ASIM has observed several hundreds of these flashes during its first year in space. An important reason for this is that the instruments mounted on the observatory are far more sensitive than those with which previously launched missions have been equipped.

“I find these observations really surprising. You see blue lightning bolts which start with a small explosion at the top of the cloud and shoot up into the atmosphere. It’s an extremely powerful blue flash, which doesn’t last more than 10-20 microseconds,” says Torsten Neubert.

“We don’t know why it occurs. No one has ever studied these phenomena with this accuracy. But if we succeed in our project, we will probably have to rethink our chemical models for how thunderstorms affect the ozone layer. I believe that we’ve come a step closer to understanding the underlying physics of these lightning bolts.”