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Rare sprites caught red handed: Dazzling images show mysterious electric tendrils lighting up the skies over Chile

  • Red sprites are rare bursts of light that last for a few milliseconds and take place 50 miles (80 km) above Earth
  • ESO photographer, Petr Horálek, caught sight of these lights at the La Silla Observatory in the Atacama desert
  • The red sprites flashed for about 40 minutes and were around 310 miles (500km) away from the photographer
  • The flashes are caused by electrical discharges of lightning, and they get their red hue from nitrogen in the air


Only a small minority of people have ever seen the ghostly crimson lights that dance on top of thunderstorms.
Known as 'red sprites', these rare flashes create red tendrils more than 50 miles (80 km) above the ground that last for just a few milliseconds.
Now, photographer Petr Horálek has been able to capture this incredible sight at the La Silla Observatory on the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama desert. 

The Small and Large Magellanic Clouds can be seen just to the right of centre of the image and the faint green streak of a meteor just to the left of the Milky Way.These striking heavenly regulars are eclipsed, however, by the presence red sprites (bottom left of the main image). The six panels below the main image magnify a series of red sprites which were caught a few hours before daybreak
The Small and Large Magellanic Clouds can be seen just to the right of centre of the image and the faint green streak of a meteor just to the left of the Milky Way.These striking heavenly regulars are eclipsed, however, by the presence red sprites (bottom left of the main image). The six panels below the main image magnify a series of red sprites which were caught a few hours before daybreak

The Small and Large Magellanic Clouds can be seen just to the right of centre of the image and the faint green streak of a meteor just to the left of the Milky Way.
These striking heavenly regulars are eclipsed, however, by the presence of something far more elusive and much closer to home.
The six panels below the main image magnify a series of red sprites which were caught a few hours before daybreak.
Named after Shakespeare’s mischievous sprites Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ariel, from The Tempest, sprites are caused by irregularities in the ionosphere.
The incredible flashes of light are caused by huge electrical discharges of lightning in the sky, and they get their deep red hue from nitrogen molecules in the air. 

Only a small minority of people have ever seen the ghostly crimson lights that dance on top of thunderstorms. Known as 'red sprites', these rare flashes create red tendrils more than 50 miles (80 km) above the ground that last for just a few milliseconds
Only a small minority of people have ever seen the ghostly crimson lights that dance on top of thunderstorms. Known as 'red sprites', these rare flashes create red tendrils more than 50 miles (80 km) above the ground that last for just a few milliseconds
Only a small minority of people have ever seen the ghostly crimson lights that dance on top of thunderstorms. Known as 'red sprites', these rare flashes create red tendrils more than 50 miles (80 km) above the ground that last for just a few milliseconds

Named after Shakespeare’s mischievous sprites Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ariel, from The Tempest, sprites are caused by irregularities in the ionosphere
Named after Shakespeare’s mischievous sprites Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ariel, from The Tempest, sprites are caused by irregularities in the ionosphere
Named after Shakespeare’s mischievous sprites Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ariel, from The Tempest, sprites are caused by irregularities in the ionosphere

The incredible flashes of light are caused by huge electrical discharges of lightning in the sky, and they get their deep red hue from nitrogen molecules in the air. They can be seen in the D region of the ionosphere. This is the area of the atmosphere just above the dense lower atmosphere, about 37 to 56 miles (60 km to 90 km) above the Earth
The incredible flashes of light are caused by huge electrical discharges of lightning in the sky, and they get their deep red hue from nitrogen molecules in the air. They can be seen in the D region of the ionosphere. This is the area of the atmosphere just above the dense lower atmosphere, about 37 to 56 miles (60 km to 90 km) above the Earth
The incredible flashes of light are caused by huge electrical discharges of lightning in the sky, and they get their deep red hue from nitrogen molecules in the air. They can be seen in the D region of the ionosphere. This is the area of the atmosphere just above the dense lower atmosphere, about 37 to 56 miles (60 km to 90 km) above the Earth

 

WHAT ARE RED SPRITES?

Red sprites are electrical bursts of light that occur above highly active thunderstorms. 
They can be seen in the D region of the ionosphere. This is the area of the atmosphere just above the dense lower atmosphere, about 37 to 56 miles (60 km to 90 km) above the Earth.
The incredible flashes get their deep red hue from nitrogen molecules in the air.
Atmospheric sprites have been known for nearly a century, but their origins were a mystery.
They only last a few milliseconds and are relatively dim compared with other lightning.
The late experimental physicist John Winckler accidentally discovered sprites, while helping to test a new low-light video camera in 1989. 


Typically seen as groups of red-orange flashes, they are triggered by positive cloud-to-ground lightning.
This is rarer and more powerful than its negative counterpart, as the lightning discharge originates from the upper regions of the cloud, further from the ground.
In a short burst, the sprite extends rapidly downwards, creating dangling red tendrils before disappearing.
The sprites pictured here occurred over the course of about 40 minutes and were most likely more than 310 miles (500km) away. 
In October, another photographer was able to capture this elusive light after spending months on the road following storms in Vivaro, Italy.
Marko Korosec, 32, managed to capture the rare pictures whilst standing in a corn field, over 200 miles (320km) away from the phenomenon. 
'Sprites are not easy to capture, and might occur just a few times in hours, but this storm system was very active this time.
'It was very difficult to get these shots as they are so rare and you simply have to be quite lucky that the storm will produce them.
'You might take hundreds of photos without capturing any of them,' added Mr Korosec, who works as a system administrator for highways in Slovenia. 
Atmospheric sprites have been known for nearly a century, but researchers have been baffled as to how, and why, they form.
In May, Penn State University researchers managed to model the elusive phenomenon, which forms above thunderstorms and appears as a 'jellyfish' shape in the sky.
They say they believe that sprites form at plasma irregularities and may be useful in remote sensing of the lower ionosphere – an area that facilitates radio communication on Earth.

For decades, airline pilots were the only people lucky enough to catch sight of the natural phenomenon known as red sprites. Now one photographer has managed to capture this elusive light after spending months on the road following storms in Vivaro, Italy
For decades, airline pilots were the only people lucky enough to catch sight of the natural phenomenon known as red sprites. Now one photographer has managed to capture this elusive light after spending months on the road following storms in Vivaro, Italy

Marko Korosec, 32, managed to capture the rare pictures whilst standing in a corn field, over 200 miles (320km) away from the phenomenon. The late physicist John Winckler accidentally discovered sprites, while helping to test a new low-light video camera in 1989
Marko Korosec, 32, managed to capture the rare pictures whilst standing in a corn field, over 200 miles (320km) away from the phenomenon. The late physicist John Winckler accidentally discovered sprites, while helping to test a new low-light video camera in 1989


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