Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2023 October 2

A normal starry sky is punctuated by by several very unusually
shaped red objects, known as sprites. These sprites are shown in
very high details including several very well defined

Sprite Lightning in High Definition
Image Credit & Copyright: Nicolas Escurat

Explanation: Sometimes lightning occurs out near space. One such lightning type is red sprite lightning, which has only been photographed and studied on Earth over the past 25 years. The origins of all types of lightning remain topics for research, and scientists are still trying to figure out why red sprite lightning occurs at all. Research has shown that following a powerful positive cloud-to-ground lightning strike, red sprites may start as 100-meter balls of ionized air that shoot down from about 80-km high at 10 percent the speed of light. They are quickly followed by a group of upward streaking ionized balls. Featured here is an extraordinarily high-resolution image of a group of red sprites. This image is a single frame lasting only 1/25th of a second from a video taken above Castelnaud castle in Dordogne, France, about three weeks ago. The sprites quickly vanished -- only a faint glow is seen on the next video frame.

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Tomorrow's picture: eye in the sky

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