Red Sprites are Best Seen from Space

Image of a red sprite taken from the International Space Station in October 2023 by Expedition 70 Commander, Dr. Andreas Mogensen. (Credit: ESA/DTU/ A. Mogensen)

Planet Earth is full of some truly awe-inspiring spectacles, but few are as intriguing as a sprite, which are officially known as a Transient Luminous Event (TLE) and consist of large-scale electric discharges that shoot upwards while occurring above the cloud tops in the Earth’s mesosphere at approximate altitudes of 50-90 km (31-56 mi). In October 2023, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, Dr. Andreas Mogensen, who is currently onboard the International Space Station (ISS) as Commander of the Expedition 70 mission, took an incredible image of a red sprite with the Davis camera as part of the Thor-Davis experiment and his Huginn mission.

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Are the Clouds of Jupiter Haunted?

Artist illustration shows what a sprite could look like in Jupiter's atmosphere. Named after a mischievous, quick-witted character in English folklore, sprites last for only a few milliseconds. They feature a central blob of light with long tendrils of light extending down toward the ground and upward. In Earth's upper atmosphere, their interaction with nitrogen give sprites a reddish hue. At Jupiter, where the predominance of hydrogen in the upper atmosphere would likely give them a blue hue. Image Description/Credit NASA

Are spirits amongst the clouds of Jupiter? The answer might be yes! A recent publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets has identified what appear to be “Sprites” in the Jovian Atmosphere.

In European Folklore, ‘Sprites’ (derived from Latin ‘spiritus’ or spirit) were elemental and ethereal beings visiting Earth. The term is fitting for “lightning sprites”, a natural meteorological phenomenon with many eye-witness testimonies but not captured on camera until 1989. Created by lightning discharges in Earth’s atmosphere, sprites are part of larger family of phenomena called TLE’s, or “Transient Luminous Events”, that last for only fractions of a second.

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