The world's first space-based sensor capable of detecting and locating lightning events in the daytime as well as during the nighttime with high detection efficiency was designed and built at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). The concept for this instrument was developed at MSFC in the 1980's, and was selected for development as part of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS). The purpose of the sensor is to detect the full spectrum of lightning flashes, including cloud to ground, cloud to cloud, and intra-cloud (within cloud) lightning events. Ground-based techniques detect only cloud-to-ground lightning events which are believed to comprise 25% of the total lightning activity. In addition, these techniques generally detect lightning activity near land masses; very little information is provided regarding lightning events over the Earth's oceans. OTD is designed to aid scientists in determining the global distribution of lightning activity and thunderstorms and the characteristics of the Earth's electric circuit.

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