TECH

Astronaut Captures Picture Of Stunning Rare 'Red Sprites' In The Atmosphere

21/08/2015 13:23 BST | Updated 21/08/2015 13:59 BST

red sprites

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have captured one of nature's rarest and most beautiful phenomenon - the 'red sprite'.

These jellyfish style phenomena are incredibly rare and only occur during the most severe of thunderstorms when enormously powerful bursts of lightning give off an electromagnetic discharge.

The red stripes you can see is the electricity interacting with the nitrogen in Earth's atmosphere. Lasting only a matter of milliseconds, the sprites can reach over 50 miles high.

red sprite

Despite their size they're incredibly hard to spot and are almost impossible to capture from the ground due to the usually enormous thunderstorm that's in the way.

This leaves the International Space Station in a unique and ultimately blessed position being able to capture these sprites without any interruption.

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Scientists have only been able to study red sprites from around 1989 onwards when they were first captured. Thankfully advances in imaging technology have greatly increased the ability to capture them in more detail.

The easiest way to explain a red sprite is as an upside down lightning fork. When lightning takes place it travels up as well as down.

The upwards fork then interacts with pockets of nitrogen in the Earth's upper atmosphere causing it to create this huge red tentacles.