An astronomer captured impressive new observations of red sprites

How are red streaks formed in the sky?

Sprites are part of a group of lightning-like phenomena given named derived from fantasy. Other examples include elves and giant jets. Sprites typically occur high in Earth’s atmosphere, sometimes as high as 55 miles (90 km) in altitude.

They are large-scale electric discharges that occur high above clouds during thunderstorms. They are usually triggered by the discharges of regular lightning. However, sprites lack the hot channel temperatures of tropospheric lightning, meaning they are not simply lightning bolts firing out towards space. They are also much harder to observe than typical lightning.

“In addition to occurring much higher in the sky than regular lightning, they are cooler than the white lightning we usually see and appear much fainter,” ESO explained in its statement.

Uncovering phenomena in the night sky

The ESO capture (above) looks almost like a painting or a computer render of the night sky, with mountains stretching off into the distance and a green airglow low in the night sky. The red streaks look almost like blasts of magma coming from a volcano.

Sprites have also been observed from the International Space Station, as can be seen in the image below. High altitudes are, for obvious reasons, the ideal location from which to capture the red glowing streaks.

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