Earth  ID: 31111

Elusive Sprite Captured from the ISS in Southeast Asia

They were once so elusive that scientists gave them a mystical name. Red sprites are short-lived, red flashes that occur about 50 miles (80 kilometers) up in the atmosphere. With long, vertical tendrils like a jellyfish, these electrical discharges can extend 12 to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) into the atmosphere and are connected to thunderstorms and lightning.

These three serial images, part of a time-lapse movie collected from 13:41 to 13:47 UTC on April 30, 2012, show a red sprite (center image) captured with a digital camera by Expedition 31 astronauts on the ISS as they traveled southeast from central Myanmar (Burma) to just north of Malaysia. Red sprites are difficult to observe because they last for just a few milliseconds and occur above thunderstorms—meaning they are usually blocked from view on the ground by the very clouds that produce them. The sprites send pulses of electrical energy up toward the edge of space—into the electrically charged layer known as the ionosphere—instead of down to Earth’s surface. They are rich with radio noise and can sometimes occur in bunches.

For More Information

NASA Earth Observatory


Credits

Amy Moran (GST): Lead Technical Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA, Earth at Night book

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Keywords:
SVS >> Night lights
SVS >> Storm
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Astronaut
SVS >> ISS
NASA Science >> Earth