Red Sprite Jellyfish: Unveiling the Truth About this Mysterious Deep-Sea Creature

Red Sprite Jellyfish are rare, stunning electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere shaped like jellyfish, occurring above thunderstorms.

Understanding Red Sprite Jellyfish

A red sprite jellyfish glows in the dark, its tentacles trailing behind as it gracefully moves through the water

Defining the Phenomenon

Red Sprite Jellyfish are a fascinating natural event that occurs in the upper atmosphere.

These mesmerizing phenomena are essentially electrical discharges known as transient luminous events (TLEs) resembling jellyfish shapes.

Taking place in the mesosphere and ionosphere, jellyfish sprites are a rare type of red sprite that occur above powerful thunderstorms.

Formation and Mechanics

The formation of jellyfish sprites is linked to the electrical activity within thunderstorms.

These electrifying sky events occur at altitudes between 50-90 km (31-56 mi) above the Earth’s surface, making them elusive to human eyes.

A typical jellyfish sprite consists of a large, reddish-orange top with tendrils of red lightning extending below it (Atlas Obscura).

The mechanics of jellyfish sprites and red sprites, in general, involve positively charged ions interacting with the Earth’s ionosphere, which results in a brief, brightly colored electrical discharge.

The characteristic red color is due to the presence of nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Scientific Discoveries and Research

As these events are ephemeral and challenging to observe, significant research has been carried out to better understand the phenomenon.

Scientists from the University of Alaska first observed red sprites in 1989 during a study conducted in collaboration with the McDonald Observatory.

Further research led to the discovery of different types of sprites, including the jellyfish sprite.

Driven by the need for a deeper understanding, the University of Minnesota’s researcher Davis Sentman researched red sprites extensively, and the phenomenon witnessed a major increase in scientific interest around the world.

In recent years, astrophotographers and storm-chasers have managed to capture stunning images of these elusive events.

This has greatly contributed to the scientific understanding of the formation and behavior of red sprite jellyfish and further captivated audiences who are interested in the wonders of our atmosphere and space.

Observing and Documenting Red Sprites

Optimal Conditions for Visibility

Red sprites are elusive and rare lightning phenomena that occur above powerful thunderstorms.

They are typically visible between altitudes of 50-90 km Smithsonian Magazine.

To observe and document red sprites, certain conditions must be met, such as a clear view of the storm clouds and dark sky.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have a unique vantage point to observe red sprites from above NASA SVS.

For ground-based observing, it helps to be at a high altitude, away from light pollution, and with a clear view of cumulonimbus clouds.

Photography and Recording Techniques

Photographing red sprites requires specialized equipment, such as sensitive cameras that can capture the lightning sprites’ brief appearance, lasting only milliseconds.

Stephen Hummel, a researcher who has captured jellyfish sprites, suggests using a sensitive DSLR camera set to a high ISO and long exposure time.

Recording techniques vary, as both video and still images have been successful in documenting the sprites.

Notable Observations

Here are some—though not all—remarkable instances of observations made by researchers and astronauts in recent years:

  • In 2012, astronauts aboard the ISS captured footage of a red sprite over a large lightning flash.

  • Stephen Hummel spotted a well-formed jellyfish sprite characterized by its wide red top and tendrils of red lightning reaching out underneath.

  • According to a weather article, astronauts on the Space Shuttle have been able to observe red sprites since the 1990s.

The study of red sprites remains an exciting field of research in atmospheric science.

With every new observation, scientists continue to learn more about this captivating and rare weather phenomenon.

Source used: