Insight Into: Observing Red Sprites

Video Player

Video Versions

Astronauts captured images of the rarely witnessed lightning phenomena called "red sprites." 

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA

·       Daytime photo of lightning in Arizona courtesy of Wikipedia user ed ouimette
·       Photo of oil wells and flare in North Dakota courtesy of Tim Evanson
·       Photo of fracking equipment in North Dakota courtesy of Joshua Doubek
·       Photo of old and new San Francisco – Oakland Bay bridges courtesy of Frank Schulenburg
·       Sea creature illustration copyright The National Library of Israel, Shapell Family Digitization Project _and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Geography – Historic Cities Research Project
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music
Written by Tracy Vogel
Designed by Marc Lussier

A lightning bolt in the desert. Text, We can usually see better in the daylight.
But not always.
Lightning is one phenomenon best observed at night.
Astronauts aboard the space station have a unique view of lightning strikes.
Astronauts of captured images of the rarely witnessed lightning phenomena called "red sprites."
On the Earth's horizon, a red shape over a purplish-white shape on the ground.
The jellyfish-like red sprites are cold electric discharges, similar to the emissions of a fluorescent light tube, that seem to occur during large thunderstorms.
The sprites tendrils reach as far as 60 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth's surface.
Earth from a space station. Text, Red sprites are difficult to observe, because they last just milliseconds and appear above thunderstorm clouds, which usually block our view from the ground.
Earth orbit provides a good perch from which to study these elusive phenomena.