Lightning sprites are offshoots of large-scale electrical discharges taking place high in Earth’s atmosphere, above thunderstorms. They’re often red in color, and so they’re sometimes called red sprites. They can be tens of miles high, but last only a few tens of milliseconds. Oklahoma – which lies within an area of the Great Plains known as Tornado Alley – is a good place to see lightning sprites. Paul Smith in Edmond, Oklahoma, is a longtime observer of them, and he captured this image on May 24, 2018. He told EarthSky:
My best sprite lightning capture to date. A beautiful jellyfish, close range from Highway 33 East of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, on the morning of May 24 at 12:55 a.m. local time, looking northwest towards Alva, Oklahoma.
You can even see the color change in the tendrils going into the lower atmosphere.
Thank you, Paul!
Want to see lightning sprites in real time? The video below, from Thomas Ashcraft in New Mexico – another veteran lighting sprite observer – captured it on June 23, 2014.
Bottom line: May 2018 example of sprite lightning over Oklahoma.
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.