Earth  ID: 11059

Elusive Red Sprite

For nearly 100 years, military and civilian pilots reported seeing ephemeral flashes above storms. While atmospheric scientists mostly discounted these claims, a photo taken in 1989 accidently captured on film the first image of these short-lived bursts called red sprites. As rain and lightning descend from thunderstorms, electrical discharges can be unleashed into Earth's ionosphere. Resembling long, jellyfish-like tendrils, red sprites shoot above the tops of clouds in bright red spurts and last only milliseconds. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were recently lucky enough to capture one on camera. Watch the video to see a red sprite explode above a large lightning flash in April 2012.

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NASA Earth Observatory

Story Credits

Lead Writer:
Mike Carlowicz (Sigma Space Corporation)

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA Earth Observatory
ISS video and photos courtesy of the crew of Expedition 31 and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
Historic red sprite photo courtesy of University of Alaska-Fairbanks

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