I just received a question from Julie from my old stomping grounds of Gallia County, Ohio and she asks: "Josh, I found your blogs on lightning to be very interesting and informative and I have a question about another kind of lightning. What's the lightning called that goes up above the clouds into space?"
That's a very good question, Julie! I believe you're talking about what's called Sprites.
Here's some background and information about this lightning phenomenon.
Sprites are large-scale electrical discharges which occur high above a thunderstorm cloud or cumulonimbus cloud, giving rise to a quite varied range of visual shapes. They are triggered by the discharges of positive lightning between the thundercloud and the ground. The phenomena were named after the mischievous sprite (air spirit) Puck in William Shakespeare's, A Midsummer Night's Dream. They normally are colored reddish-orange or greenish-blue, with hanging tendrils below and arcing branches above their location and can be preceded by a reddish halo. They often occur in clusters, lying 50 miles to 90 miles above the Earth's surface. Sprites were first photographed on July 6, 1989 by scientists from the University of Minnesota and have since been witnessed tens of thousands of times. Sprites have been held responsible for otherwise unexplained accidents involving high altitude vehicular operations above thunderstorms.
Below is what a Sprite looks like. It's the first color image of one taken in 1994.
Sprites are the result of extremely powerful lightning discharges sometimes occurring within thunderstorms. They are almost always triggered by a powerful positive cloud-to-ground flash which lowers massive amounts of electrical charge to the Earth. This momentarily increases the electric field in the middle atmosphere beyond the point of “dielectric breakdown.” In other words, a giant spark occurs, usually starting around 45 miles above the ground. Electrical streamers then race both downwards and upwards from that point. Though sprites may look rather “solid” in many images, when viewed through telescopes, many Sprites are actually composed of networks of thin channels of electrical streamers. Only a very small percentage (<10%) of positive cloud to ground lightning strikes actually produce Sprites and then, only in certain storms.
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