Amateur astronomer Martin Popek of the city of Nýdek in the Czech Republic caught this rare red ring of light in the sky on April 2, 2017, using a low-light video camera. It’s an example of an ELVE (Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources). Spaceweather.com explained:
ELVEs appear when a pulse of electromagnetic radiation from lightning propagates up toward space and hits the base of Earth’s ionosphere … A faint ring of light marks the broad ‘spot’ where the EMP hits.
ELVEs are elusive – and that’s an understatement. Blinking in and out of existence in only 1/1000th of a second, they are completely invisible to the human eye.
ELVEs are often accompanied by red sprites, often called lightning sprites, and that was the case here. The image below – also captured by Popek on April 2 – shows them.
These lightning phenomena are extremely elusive. For one thing, they flash on a millisecond timescale. They’re also above thunderstorms, so they’re usually blocked from view on the ground. Astronauts in space have the perfect vantage point for seeing ELVEs and lightning sprites, and indeed ELVEs were first seen by cameras on the space shuttle in the 1990s.
Bottom line: Image of an ELVE – Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources – over the Czech Republic on April 2, 2017.
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.