Scientists have been documenting a rare phenomenon in recent years: streaks of red lightning that resemble the tentacles of a glowing jellyfish hanging it tentacles down high from the sky.
Sprite medusa. Foto Stephen Hummel pic.twitter.com/WDdDcKPzG4
— Gustavo Vela (@GustavoVela71) August 15, 2020
These daunting spurts of lightning are known as “sprites,” and are the result of quick electrical burst that takes place in the upper atmosphere between 37 to 50 miles, according to the European Space Agency.
Sprites have been sighted over every continent besides Antarctica since their discovery in 1989. However, scientists are still learning about the phenomenon.
Stephen Hummel, an expert at the Austin McDonald Observatory, succeeded in capturing a rare perfect photo of sprites on July 2nd from a ridge on Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.
Hummel accidentally snapped the photograph while he was recordimg hours of footage. On that July night, he had already recorded four and a half hours of footage before capturing the sprite – and he had also recorded some 70 hours of footage and stills including 70 sprites this year, he told Business Insider.
Sprites usually appear to the eye as very brief, dim, grey structures. You need to be looking for them to spot them, and oftentimes I am not certain I actually saw one until I check the camera footage to confirm, Hummel said.
Sprites often resemble jellyfish-like creatures suspended from the ionosphere. They can also look like vertical red pillars which are caused by lightning in quick bursts as a result of nitrogen floating high in gghe Earth’s atmosphere. The gas gets excited by the burst of electricity and emits a red glow.
However, not all thunderstorms produce sprites they actually occur when lightning comes from with under the ground, releasing positive electrical energy to counter that an opposite negative charged electrical discharge happens in the sky. Further, the sprites occur much higher into the sky than regular lightning, which strikes in between electrically charged air, clouds, and our planet’s surface.
Sprites are tricky to see from the earth's soil during massive thunderstorms because of the clouds, but also because they happen so far away from the Earth’s surface in space. In fact, the Sprites are far easier to witness from the International Space Station (ISS).
In unusual cases, the jellyfish sprites will be massively displayed in the sky visible without a giant telescope. Hummel’s recent photographs depict the sprites towering “probably around 30 miles long and 30 miles tall,” he said. In even more rare cases, the massive glowing tentacles can be seen upwards of 300 miles above in the air.
The more powerful the storm and the more lightning it produces, the more likely it is to produce a sprite, Hummel expressed.
None the less the phenomenon remains largely unknown by most people in the world, despite being one of the most beautiful wonders.