Man captures "Sprites", sends internet crazy.

Man captures "Sprites", sends internet crazy.

A recent set of photos from Oklahoma man, Paul Smith has 'electrified' the online community with their eerie and unmistakable nature. 

Looking more like jellyfish and streaking comets than a regularly occurring phenomenon, the "sprites" have caused mass awe and confusion.

High above the clouds of thunderstorms are where these sprites are formed. So high in fact that they can occur 50-80km in the sky, above where shooting stars and meteors will break up.

This is known as the Mesosphere.

It is difficult to tell the size of these sprites from an image as the photographer must be several hundred kilometres away from the storm, which adds to the mystery of the photo as it seems eerily tranquil without the immediate presence of the storm. 

A sprite in the upper mesosphere

This also makes it hard to decipher the scale of the sprites from such a distance.

From hundreds of kilometres away, they may seem somewhat small. However, the typical Jellyfish formation can be up to 50km wide, while the column-shaped sprites can vary in height from the near-invisible to several kilometres.

But to the obviously burning question...

What the heck are they?

In no uncertain terms, we don't really know, but the foundations of their formation have been known since 1989.

Sprites are triggered by a large bolt of lightning hitting the ground and sending charges vertically into the sky, to the strength of Newton's Third Law.

Sprites are not uncommon, they are just so fast that most people will miss the sight of them as they can be even faster than the typical lightning strike. We are talking in the very tenths of a second.

They move downward at speeds of up to 10% the speed of light, followed a few milliseconds later by a separate set of upward moving balls of ionization.

However. Earth's photographers are not put off so easily and a simple Google search will yield results of those with the right equipment, conditions and level of patience to catch sprites in the wild. 

Ideally, one would need:

  • A clear view of a thunderstorm.
  • Enough darkness that your camera won't be overexposed on long exposure shots. 
  • Minimal light pollution.
  • Optical imaging using a 10,000 frames-per-second high-speed camera.

With the right gear, you could be sprite hunting this coming summer with the tropical north of Australia being the most favoured destination. 

Know someone who would love a look at a sprite?
Share and tag away.


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