Red sprites are poorly-understood atmospheric phenomena. They are bright glowing shapes that temporarily appear above the clouds. The Florida Institute of Technology has captured high-speed video of a sprite in action.

Above is a picture of a red sprite taken from the International Space Station. The sprite is the faint smudge of red directly above the bright white-violet glow. Their relative dimness and their extreme rarity meant that sprites weren’t physically discovered until 1989, and seem to be caused by cloud-to-ground lightning strikes.

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Scientists at the Florida Institute of Technology believe that lightning strikes to the ground cause sprites because they cause atmospheric gravity waves—which are atmospheric waves similar to waves created by a rock being dropped into a pond. The bigger the waves, the more likely they are to create sprites.

Two high-sensitivity cameras on two airplanes take a look at sprite formation, and seem to confirm that hypothesis. They also captured very rare footage of a forming sprite. Have a look!

[Source: Sprite Streamer Information From Natural Mesospheric Structures, Florida Institute of Technology]

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Top Image: NASA/Expedition 31