Friday, Sep. 24, 2021

Lightning on Earth is getting weirder and weirder. On the evening of Sept. 20th, Puerto Rican photographer Frankie Lucena pointed his Sony A7s camera at an offshore electrical storm. This is what he saw:


"This Gigantic Jet plasma event occurred over a very powerful thunderstorm near the Virgin Islands just ahead of Tropical Storm Peter," says Lucena. "I can't believe I was able to capture such amazing details."

Indeed, this is one of the best-ever photos of a Gigantic Jet. Sometimes called "Earth's tallest lightning," because they reach the ionosphere more than 50 miles high, the towering forms were discovered near Taiwan and Puerto Rico in 2001-2002. Since then, only dozens of Gigantic Jets have been photographed. They seem to love storms over water and are famous for surprising passengers onboard commercial aircraft.

In 2017 and 2018, lightning researcher Oscar van der Velde of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya set up high speed cameras on the northern coast of Colombia in a dedicated campaign to capture Gigantic Jets. In three months of observing time he managed to capture only 12. That's how elusive they are.


Above: The red arrow points from Lucena's camera to the offshore electrical storm.

"Frankie has photographed a rare Gigantic Jet with 'carrot' morphology, first reported by Su et al (2003)," notes van der Velde. "The other, more common type of jet has a 'tree' morphology." Here is a comparison: trees vs. carrots.

"Carrot jets" are remarkable for their internal beads--that is, bright balls of light hundreds of meters wide. Lucena caught dozens of them illuminating the jet's midsection. They might be places where streamers inside the jet are intersecting, or regions of enhanced heating.

"We don't know," says van der Velde. "Gigantic Jets are not easily placed in front of a spectrograph."

Meanwhile, Lucena is still marveling at what happened. "This is the brightest Gigantic Jet I have ever seen. It was truly remarkable."

See: https://spaceweather.com

* Sprites aren’t terribly well known, except to meteorologists, nature photographers and others who study the skies. They aren’t especially rare, but they’re fleeting. They’re not easy to capture on film. Lightning sprites are electrical discharges high in Earth’s atmosphere. Lightning sprites – also known as red sprites – happen in Earth’s mesosphere, up to 50 miles (80 km) high in the sky.

So when you’re standing on Earth’s surface and you spot one, it appears relatively small, even though, in fact, sprites can be some 30 miles (50 km) across. As Matthew Cappucci of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang said in an article about lightning sprites last year: 'Imagine one electrical discharge spanning the distance from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. '

Although sprites are poorly understood, atmospheric electrodynamicists have figured out the basics behind their formation. Sprites are often triggered by a strong, positive bolt of ordinary lightning near the ground. They’re thought to be a balancing mechanism that the atmosphere uses to dispense charges vertically. It’s a quick process that takes less than a tenth of a second.

In the 20th century, pilots spoke of “flashes above thunderstorms.” Lightning sprites as we know them today weren’t captured and their intricate structure didn’t begin to be recorded on film until as late as 1989, when experimental physicist John R. Winckler (1916-2001) happened to capture one while testing a low-light television camera.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Stephen Hummel, who works at McDonald Observatory in West Texas

Today, people around the world routinely capture photos of lightning sprites. You’ll find many photos of them in this gallery from SpaceWeather.com.

See: https://earthsky.org/earth/definition-what-are-lightning-sprites/

I have seen Gigantic Jets and Sprites*, but they have always been photographs from above taken by aircraft, never photographs taken from ground level. The power of the Gigantic Jets, which can reach 50 miles high into the Ionosphere, is amazing. Sprites, though spectacularly beautiful, resemble giant red transient electric jelly fish.
Jul 29, 2021
Blue jets, Sprites and Elves. Incredible, how far we are on understanding or even knowing phenomenons and processes on earth still. And how space makes the Earth closer to us in many senses.
Supercomputers and AI barely deal with simulations, and still to be fed with more and more new data.
Presumably, our best effort should be learn more and more and handle our own impacts.
There is no magic button to stop the climate change. Humans humble spectaculars might leverage own deeds, viewing the Earth as a part of the cosmos.