Photographer captures Eerie And Majestic Sky ‘Jellyfish’ during a storm

If you ever looked up during a thunderclap and a red jellyfish looked high in the air, you were not hallucinating.

These tentacle-like spurts of red lightning are called sprites. They are ultra-fast bursts of electricity that creep through the upper regions of the atmosphere – between 37 and 50 miles (60 and 80 kilometers) up in the air – and move towards space, according to the European Space Agency.

The phenomenon is a rare sighting: it lasts only ten tenths of a second and can be difficult to see from the ground because it is generally hidden by storm clouds. But Stephen Hummel, a specialist in dark skies at the McDonald Observatory, captured on July 2 (see above) a spectacular image of one of these sprites from a mountain on Mount Locke in Texas.

“Sprites normally appear to the eye as very short, dark, gray structures. You have to look for them to spot them, and often I’m not sure I actually saw one until I checked the film material to confirm,” Hummel told Business Insider.

The night he snapped this photo, he had taken 4 1/2 hours of footage before making the sprite on film.

“Overall, this year I probably recorded close to 70 hours of footage and stills, and caught about 70 sprites,” he said, adding that half of these were in one storm.

Specialist at McDonald Observatory captured the lightning strikes.  (Stephen Hummel)Specialist at McDonald Observatory captured the lightning strikes. (Stephen Hummel)

Jellyfish sprites can be seen glimpsed from space

Davis Sentman, a physics professor at the University of Alaska who died in 2011, suggested the name “sprite” for this type of weather phenomenon. He said the name was “well-suited to describe her appearance” because the word evokes the fair, cheerful nature of lightning.

Some sprites, such as the one Hummel photographs, are jelly-shaped. Others are just vertical columns of red light with creeping vines: these are called root sprouts.

Jellyfish sprites can be enormous – the one Hummel photographed was “probably about 30 miles long and 30 miles long,” he said. Some can be seen from more than 500 kilometers away.

They occur because, when lightning strikes the ground, it tends to release positive electrical energy that must be balanced by equal and opposite charged energy elsewhere in the air. That sprites are the electrical discharges that balance the equation.

“The more powerful the storm and the more lightning it produces, the more likely it is to produce a sprite,” Hummel said.

While similar to regular lightning, which shoots between electrically charged air, clouds, and the ground, sprites occur much farther from the earth’s surface.

Astronauts sometimes see them from the International Space Station.

Astronauts see red lightning bolt from International Space Station, August 2015. (NASA)Astronauts glimpse lightning bolt from International Space Station, August 2015. (NASA)

When sprinkling sparks, it becomes red because of nitrogen floating high in the earth’s atmosphere. The gas is picked up by the burst of electricity and emits a red glow.

Since the discovery of the sprites in 1989, scientists have tracked them across every continent except Antarctica.

Dave Mosher contributed to this story.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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