- The lightning strikes we see on the surface are just a storm phenomenon, and other lightning strikes occur in places that we cannot see from the ground.
- Lightning also creates an incredible sight in the space above the clouds and extends into the atmosphere in the color we have never seen before from cloud to ground lightning.
- A new image captured by NOIRLab researchers gave us an incredible glimpse of two rare lightning features that played at the same moment.
We are all familiar with what happens when a thunderstorm rolls over the neck of the woods. We will rain, wind, thunder, and of course lightning. As long as you are not nearby, seeing lightning strikes from cloud to ground is a truly spectacular experience, but these energies are only part of the story of lightning. The rest spread out above the clouds, and one might say that the little-known displays hidden on the ground that we don’t see are actually even more amazing.
In the new images released by NOIRLab, we are seen as not one phenomenon, but two phenomena that were frozen in time. The image was taken near Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii, where multiple high-powered telescopes are located. What we see in the photo is that lightning directs its energy to the sky in the form of red sprites and blue jets. You can clearly see how they got their name.
This photo almost looks fake, you would think it is forgivable. We will never see lightning like this, and it is very rare to see it from somewhere on the earth rather than from a height above it. The difference between jets and sprites is related to their position in the atmosphere. The red elves look like flares with flowing tentacles, while the blue jets look like solid plasma beams shot into space.
The European Space Agency’s chart does an excellent job of showing the difference between these two phenomena, but since they are all products of upward lightning launches, they are still closely related.
NOIRLab provides some additional context:
The red sprite and the blue jet are distinguished by their color and direction of impact. As you can see in this image, red and blue light shoots out from the top of the clouds and shoots toward space instead of toward the earth. It is extremely rare to capture these phenomena from the camera, and even more so from this unique perspective.
This photo was taken by a ground camera named “Cloud Cams” located near the Gemini North Telescope. The telescope there is diving into space, but this picture is a good reminder of some very incredible things happening here.
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