Rare Red Sprite Lighting Captured In New Images

on August 22 2013 11:39 PM
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This beautiful image shows a sprite photographed over Red Willow County, Nebraska, on August 12. Researchers use DSLRs as well as special high speed cameras to capture sprites. Joshua Ahrns/Flickr

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. 

9496938627_3fa3d6309f_z Sprite lightning photographed over Red Willow County, Nebraska.  Joshua Ahrns/Flickr

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. 

ok-sprite This sprite was viewed over Canadian County, Oklahoma, on August 6.  Joshua Ahrns/Flickr

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. 

 

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