Yesterday (June 25, 2014), Spaceweather.com reported on the many gigantic lightning sprites observed this month, as summertime thunderstorms swept the U.S. They are offshoots of large-scale electrical discharges that take place high in Earth’s atmosphere, above thunderstorms. They’re often red in color; hence they’re sometimes called red sprites. They last only a few tens of milliseconds. Thomas Ashcraft, a longtime observer of this phenomenon, said there have been “a bumper crop” of sprites in June 2014. He captured the photo below on June 23. He told Spaceweather.com:
According to my measurements, it was 40 miles tall and 46 miles wide. This sprite would dwarf Mt. Everest!
Why are sprites 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 also the perfect vantage point for seeing lightning sprites.
The video below, also from Thomas Ashcraft on June 23, will give you an idea of sprites activity above thunderstorms in real time.
Bottom line: Thomas Ashcraft in New Mexico captured this photo and video of lightning sprites on June 23, 2014. The photo shows what he said is one of the largest ‘jellyfish’ sprites he has captured in the last four years. Amazing photo!
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded 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.