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Clues About Atmospheric Sprites Unfold

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Scientists have long thought that red sprites, very intense and brief forms of lightning that occur high in the atmosphere, lack definite form.

At 30 to 50 miles above the storm, the researchers said, spark channels form, which give off a blue glow and eventually streak upward leaving behind glowing red streamers of ionized gas.
Now a group of researchers in Stanford University's Very Low Frequency Research Group have proposed that sprites consist of thousands of fiery streamers -- each a few meters wide -- resulting from electrostatic charges left behind by a lightning bolt. At 30 to 50 miles above the storm, the researchers said, spark channels form, which give off a blue glow and eventually streak upward leaving behind glowing red streamers of ionized gas. The new theory was reported in a paper presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco by Victor Pasko, a postdoctoral research affiliate at the university, and Umran S. Inan, a professor of electrical engineering.
The group hopes to acquire a special telescope to capture the details in sprites as small as a few feet across to determine if the theory is correct.

Photonics Spectra
Jan 1998
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