Image credit - Abestrobi - CC-BY-SA

Image credit – Abestrobi – CC-BY-SA

Cloud of the Day – Sprites

Another non-cloud cloud of the day, sprites are electrical phenomena. They emanate upward from the tops of thunderclouds, as lightning plays around the bottoms. Sprites weren’t caught on film before 1989, and only seriously pursued since then. With intense sprite hunting, and especially with the excellent view from the International Space Station, the database is growing.

image credit - NSF

image credit – NSF

image credit - NSF

image credit – NSF

The National Science Foundation article of 2009 referred to both red and blue sprites, but by 2013 they’d been separated into (red) sprites and blue jets. They’re part of a group of atmospheric phenomena called transient luminous events (TLE) which include, yes, elves. Scientists can be so whimsical.

Sprites last for a very short time – about a thousandth of a second. Their elusive and fleeting nature is what led to their name. They’re big, though. They extend about ten times as far above the cloud tops as lightning does below the bottoms, and they can span hundreds of kilometers. They are also unlike lightning in that they are composed of cold plasma, rather than hot. Nevertheless, we hope there is no precipitation.


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