observations on sprites, jets and other phenomena
This section will be updated as new observations about sprites and related phenomena become available. This will include new results from scientists as well as selected reports supplied by visitors to this site.
The map below is a representation of where various transient luminous events (sprites, blue jets, elves, etc) have been reported. Over the central U.S., the number approaches 12,000 confirmed sightings. Thus the map is schematic.
Israeli Astronaut Ilan Ramon, one of the seven who perished in the tragedy of 1 February 2003, was conducting a series of experiments onboard the STS-107 mission. One of these included obtaining calibrated images of sprites and elves. Two images beamed back to Earth are shown below, along with a press story describing some of the initial reactions. The detailed scientific analysis of these and other images will become part of the enduring scientific legacy of the Columbia crew.
The sprites, which are red flashes of electricity shooting up from thunderclouds 13 miles into the ionosphere, and elves, which are glowing red doughnut shapes radiating 190 miles, were photographed on Sunday by Capt. David M. Brown of the Navy.
The shuttle and its crew of seven, including the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, are on a 16-day science mission that began on Thursday. The study of sprites is part of an Israeli experiment called the Mediterranean-Israeli dust experiment, or Meidex.
This was the first time anyone had taken such images with a calibrated instrument from the shuttle, said Yoav Yair, project coordinator for Israeli experiments on the Columbia mission, "and it's causing really great excitement." Mr. Yair said Captain Brown did not see the luminosities or knew he had captured their images until scientists on the ground downloaded the pictures and analyzed them.
"One has to be extremely lucky to catch because it lasts only 0.1 milliseconds - less than a thousandth of a second," Mr.Yair said. "Luckily, God was on our side this time, and we caught one."
The discovery of sprites in 1989 and elves in 1994 has opened up a new area of study in the field of upper atmospheric physics. Until now, images of them have been limited to those taken from the ground or airplanes. The shuttle cameras that captured the flashes are onboard primarily to help Meidex, which is designed to study the impact of dust particles on global climate.