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Sprites, Jets and ELVES
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Sprites, Jets and ELVES

Credit: Eastview
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BigRed-Sprite.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

When you’re looking up at lightning, an instrument on the International Space Station (ISS) may be studying the electrical phenomena above the cumulonimbus clouds with the fanciful names sprites, elves, jets or starters.

Amazing But True!

Credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sprite_seen_from_space.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Three photos of a lighting strike with a sprite rapidly forming above it during the strike [Figure2]

  • These phenomena are together called transient luminous events (TLE); sometimes they are referred to as upper-atmospheric lightning, but they are not lightning.
  • Sprites are rapidly moving flashes of red light above the thundercloud that are the most common of these phenomena. They appear in the mesosphere.
  • Jets appear above thunderstorms in the stratosphere; they are very bright and blue.
  • ELVES is an acronym for Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations. They are in the upper mesosphere and are extremely short lived.

Explore More

With the link below, learn more about transient luminous events. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How do sprites differ from the lightning below?
  2. What do radio, optical and gamma waves each reveal?
  3. What does the presence of gamma ray bursts above the thunderclouds mean?
  4. Why have researchers developed Fire station and placed it on the International Space Station?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Eastview; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BigRed-Sprite.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sprite_seen_from_space.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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