Images: Red Sprite Lightning Revealed in Stunning Photos

Searching for Red Sprites

Groups of column-shaped red sprites

(Image credit: Jason Ahrns)

The elusive red lightning called sprites last less than a second. They form above the tops of thunderclouds, when lightning bolts trigger a burst of red light in electrically charged particles.

Because the storms that birth sprites also hide them from view, few sprites are seen from the ground. To better understand the phenomenon, scientists are hunting red sprites from the air.

University of Alaska, Fairbanks, graduate student Jason Ahrns captured stunning images of red sprites during several flights over the Midwest during the 2013 summer aboard the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Gulfstream V research plane.

Columnar sprites

Column-shaped red sprites

(Image credit: Jason Ahrns)

Column-shaped red sprites in a photo snapped Aug. 12, 2013 above Red Willow County, Neb.

Sticky tendrils

Groups of column-shaped red sprites

(Image credit: Jason Ahrns)

Groups of column-shaped red sprites seen Aug. 12, 2013 above Red Willow County, Neb.

Dancing sprites

Narrow sprites

(Image credit: Jason Ahrns)

Narrow sprites captured Aug. 12, 2013 above Red Willow County, Neb.

Big red sprite

A red sprite with a classic jellyfish shape

(Image credit: Jason Ahrns)

A red sprite with a classic jellyfish shape viewed Aug. 6, 2013, above Canadian County, Okla.

Red alien jellyfish

Photographer Jason Ahrns called this sprite a "red alien jellyfish."

(Image credit: Jason Ahrns)

Photographer Jason Ahrns called this sprite a "red alien jellyfish." The photo was taken Aug. 3, 2013 above Republic County, Kans.

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Sprite

sprite

(Image credit: H. H. C. Stenbaek-Nielsen)

High-speed video and models suggest sprites are caused by plasma irregularities in the ionosphere, the layer above the lower atmosphere.

Sprite formation

sprite formation

(Image credit: H. H. C. Stenbaek-Nielsen)

This is a photograph of five plasma irregularities responsible for sprite initiation.

Sprite event

sprite event

(Image credit: H. H. C. Stenbaek-Nielsen)

This is a sequence of black and white images of sprite initiation on July 20, 2012.

Sprite Seen by Astronauts

red sprites captured from the international space station on april 30, 2012.

(Image credit: NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.)

Red sprites, or seemingly mystical electrical flashes in the atmosphere, are connected to thunderstorms and lightning. This red sprite was captured from astronauts aboard the International Space Station traveling southeast from central Myanmar to north of Malaysia on April 30, 2012.