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The NASA Science video ScienceCasts: A Display of Lights Above the Storm shows several examples of Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) (Upper Atmospheric Lightning) being filmed by high-sensitivity cameras on the ISS.

Has an astronaut ever seen any of these with the unaided eye?

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question. Many of the images were taken with handheld cameras, but I haven't found anything that explicitly states that the phenomena were observed directly. I'll ask around. $\endgroup$ Nov 16, 2017 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ I asked the long duration ISS crewmembers that I'm acquainted with. None had participated in these studies or had seen (or even looked for) these atmospheric phenomena. Proves nothing except that my sample size is too small. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2017 at 23:53
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Wow, I really appreciate your looking into this, thank you! My intuition is that if any of these were visible, they would be both rare and quite dim, possibly requiring someone to spend an extended period of time in a dark-adapted state, and that's likely to be incompatible with their very busy schedule. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 10, 2017 at 1:11

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They have been observed by astronauts according to this paper and ESA. Both articles do not make a note on wether the astronauts could see the TLEs without aid.

The second article also mentions the ASIM, which is a dedicated sensor to permanently look out for this phenomena. It is planned to launch in 2018 on a Falcon 9.

Red sprites can be observed with the naked eye, blue jets are very short-lived and are unlikely to be seen without aid according to this. However, like in the other sources, no mention of an unaided sighting.

This work does mention sightings by pilots. It can reasonably be assumed, they where unaided: Vaughan, O. H., and B. Vonnegut, Recent observations of lightning discharges from the top of a thundercloud into the clear air above, J. Geophys. Res., 94(D11), 13,179-12,182, 1989.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure that an astronaut has seen any of these four phenomenon "...with the unaided eye?" If so, could you name the astronaut and ISS mission number? I understand that thee is other imaging equipment that the astronauts help maintain on the ISS and I am showing some of these images in my question. But here I am asking if they have they seen any of these themselves. It's a pretty narrowly focused question. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 21, 2017 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ They were observed by astronauts with equipment from the cupola of the ISS, as stated in the linked articles, only the last link goes into detail as to the visibility of these phenomena. It states that basically only red sprites can be observed unaided. Changed the wording of the answer. $\endgroup$
    – mike
    Nov 21, 2017 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Why are you so interested, if they can be seen unaided? $\endgroup$
    – mike
    Nov 21, 2017 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ There are only two sentences in the body of the question, and only one of them has a question mark; "Has an astronaut ever seen any of these with the unaided eye?" and the title also includes "(Without a camera)?", so the use of imaging equipment doesn't count. Since I already explain in the question that these are being observed from the ISS using imaging equipment, and include a GIF and a video showing some of these images from the ISS, answering that they are observed from the ISS is just repeating what I've already stated in the question. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 22, 2017 at 2:52

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