Eerie, ultra-detailed photo of a lightning 'sprite' exposes one of nature's least understood phenomena

Unsettling, very realistic image of a lightning "sprite" reveals one of nature's least known occurrences

During a thunderstorm over central Europe, a rare form of red lightning known as a sprite—which shoots upward—was momentarily visible in the sky, resembling a massive jellyfish. An astronomer just managed to get one of the most precise images of this unusual phenomenon ever.

Astronomer Stanislav Kaniansky of Slovakia's Banská Bystrica Observatory captured the sprite on August 14 close to his residence in Látky, according to It was a bright, zigzagging object that spanned over 31 miles (50 kilometers) in diameter and vanished in a matter of nanoseconds.

Sprites are caused by electrical discharges from lightning that shoot upward in addition to their usual downward trajectory. Sprites are stratospheric disturbances arising from strong thunderstorm electrification. According to NASA, these discharges produce lengthy strands of plasma, or ionized gas, in the ionosphere, which is the ionized region of Earth's atmosphere that begins about 50 miles (80 km) above the planet's surface.

Because sprites are ephemeral and sometimes hidden by heavy clouds, they are extremely difficult to shoot. However, Kaniansky's attitude allowed him to observe the event up close. He told, "I had a good view of the atmosphere just above the cloud tops because the thunderstorm was about 320 km [200 miles] away."

"One of the most detailed pictures ever of a sprite," said about the image.

The first unclouded photographs of sprites were taken by NASA's space shuttles in the early 1990s, marking the formal discovery of the phenomena. However, because red lightning is so fleeting, research on it has been challenging.

Although the precise mechanism underlying the phenomena is still unknown, scientists currently think that disruptions in atmospheric plasma created by small particles like meteors may be partially responsible for sprites.

On August 20, while Hurricane Franklin moved through Puerto Rico, spirits were also captured on camera above lightning strikes.

Sprites belong to a class of phenomena that are associated with lightning, called transient luminous events (TLE). Other TLEs include light emission and very low-frequency perturbations caused by electromagnetic pulse sources, which are transient red light rings produced when lightning strikes the ionosphere. Blue jets are more potent and energetic versions of sprites and elves.

Though still extremely uncommon, some TLEs are becoming simpler to capture on camera as a result of technological developments. 2019 saw the International Space Station's equipment take pictures of a massive blue jet in space. Alongside the occurrence, in Oklahoma in 2018, there was what is thought to be the strongest lightning bolt ever recorded. And in April of this year, an Italian photographer took a spooky picture of an elve that resembled a UFO and seemed to dangle over a town.