Here’s an elusive lightning sprite, captured astronauts with a digital camera on Expedition 31 aboard the International Space Station (ISS). They got this photo as ISS traveled over Myanmar on April 30, 2012.
Sometimes called red sprites, these offshoots of large-scale electrical discharges that take place high in Earth’s atmosphere, above thunderstorms. They’re red in color (hence they’re sometimes called red sprites), and they last only a few tens of milliseconds.
Why are they so elusive? It doesn’t help that they flash on a millisecond timescale. But also they are above thunderstorms, so they’re usually blocked from view on the ground. Sometimes they’re seen from a distance, or from a high mountain. Astronauts in space have the perfect vantage point.
By the way, these sprites send pulses of electrical energy up toward the edge of space — the electrically charged layer of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere — instead of down to Earth’s surface.
Bottom line: ISS astronauts captured photos of elusive lightning sprites on April 30, 2012, as they traveled over Myanmar. Lightning sprites are offshoots of large-scale electrical discharges that take place high in Earth’s atmosphere, above thunderstorms. They’re red in color and they last only a few tens of milliseconds.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.