Incredible Astrophoto: Rare Red Sprite Lightning Shows Up During Aurora

Article written: 3 Jun , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

“Holy crap, this is the rarest scene I’ve ever captured and likely ever will,” said photographer Mike Hollingshead. “I was standing there just watching when bam, big red sprites ‘squirting’ up into the air in the aurora.”

Mike said was hoping to see the aurora the night of May 31, 2013, and felt lucky when he saw a faint yellow glow begin to rise in the skies. At the same time, a thunderstorm could be seen off on the horizon and almost before he could even ponder the possibility of seeing something unusual, sprites started appearing.

This is an extremely rare event to be captured on film; in fact an image appearing just a few days ago on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on May 22 showed red sprite lighting with an aurora, and the APOD team said the image was a “candidate for the first color image ever recorded of a sprite and aurora together.”

“Sprites were first imaged in 1989 accidentally and first color photograph in 1994,” wrote Mike on his Extreme Instability website. “Recent. But with auroras, evidently it is possible the very first time was a couple freaking weeks before this one of mine. It’s that crazy rare.”

Sprites are huge electrical discharges that occur high above thunderstorm clouds. They are rare, but at least one has been captured on film from the International Space Station. They are triggered by the discharges of positive lightning between an underlying thundercloud and the ground. They often occur in clusters within the altitude range 50–90 km above the Earth’s surface.

You can read all the details on Mike’s website. And Mike also got his wish for seeing great auroras that night:

Aurora captured on May 31, 2013, seen from near Denison, Iowa. Credit and copyright: Mike Hollingshead.

Aurora captured on May 31, 2013, seen from near Denison, Iowa. Credit and copyright: Mike Hollingshead.

Stunning! Thanks to Mike Hollingshead for sharing his amazing photos, and congratulations on capturing such a rare event!

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5 Responses

  1. krenshala says

    Just thought I’d point out that the first image currently links to the previous article.

  2. Member
    Aqua4U says

    Nice… If I were Mike Hollingshead, I’d now be severely tempted to go out and buy up a buncha lottery tickets! A beautiful and scientifically valuable image… keep up the good work Mike! And thanks!

    Sprites… Izzat incoming demons or outgoing angels? LOL!

  3. Friv 2 says

    It is very beautiful. I wish I can see it by myself

  4. Sue DiMeglio Russell Kaufman says

    Gorgeous! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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