Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Red Sprite Lightning

I haven't posted an Astronomy Photo of the Day (APOD) for a long time.  

There are two sky phenomena that intrigue me greatly:  the auroras and lightning.  

Today's APOD shows a very uncommon set of events...Northern Lights as far south as South Dakota, a clash of storm systems, and the creation of a Red Sprite...caught on camera.

APOD Explanation: What's that in the sky? It is a rarely seen form of lightning confirmed only about 25 years ago: a red sprite. Recent research has shown that following a powerful positive cloud-to-ground lightning strike, red sprites may start as 100-meter balls of ionized air that shoot down from about 80-km high at 10 percent the speed of light and are quickly followed by a group of upward streaking ionized balls. The above image, taken a few days ago above central South Dakota, USA, captured a bright red sprite, and is a candidate for the first color image ever recorded of a sprite and aurora together. Distant storm clouds cross the bottom of the image, while streaks of colorful aurora are visible in the background. Red sprites take only a fraction of a second to occur and are best seen when powerful thunderstorms are visible from the side.

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