A scientist aboard the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Gulfstream V research aircraft captured a rarely viewed sky phenomenon known as sprites.
Lasting only a couple of milliseconds, sprites are bright strands of red light that surge outbound from cloud tops as a result of thunderstorms emitting lightning.
They are rarely seen from Earth since they are normally obscured by clouds. But scientist Joshua Ahrns had a front row seat to their hasty performance in the sky during a recent sprite hunting mission on the NCAR research aircraft, the Washington Post reports.
The graduate student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks is a member of a research team that have had the unique opportunity to view sprites as they shoot above the clouds. The researchers use both special high-speed cameras and DSLRs as they try to capture the rapid flashes of light.
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Ahrns has successfully captured sprites over Oklahoma City this month -- snapped with his DSLR -- as well as in the Nebraska night sky.
“We got 9 or 10 sprites on the high speed, two of which were concurrent with the DSLR,” Ahrns wrote in a blog post about the Nebraska sprite hunting mission.
He also captured video of a column sprite, also known as a C-sprite. He slowed the video down about 500 times from its initial capture rate of 10,000 frames per second.
Ahrn's research is part of a joint project of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the United States Air Force, and Fort Lewis College. The National Science Foundation is sponsoring the work.