Home Science Mysteries Man Captures Rare Jellyfish Sprite Lightning

Man Captures Rare Jellyfish Sprite Lightning

When thinking of lightning, most people would come up with images of white, thin strips of light snaking through the sky. However, this is only one type of lightning. There are many more fascinating variations of lightning in nature. In July, a man took a picture of the rare jellyfish sprite, which is basically red lightning that looks like jellyfish.

Jellyfish lightning

Sprites are large-scale electrical discharges that occur above thunderstorm clouds. This gives rise to various visual shapes that flicker in the sky for brief instances. Sprites are categorized into many types. The jellyfish sprite is one among them and tends to be very large, measuring up to 30 miles long and 30 miles high.

Stephen Hummel, a dark-skies specialist at the McDonald Observatory, was fortunate enough to witness a Jellyfish Sprite in its full glory and even took an excellent image of it. “Sprites usually appear to the eye as very brief, dim, grey structures. You need to be looking for them to spot them, and oftentimes I am not certain I actually saw one until I check the camera footage to confirm… Overall I’ve probably recorded close to 70 hours’ worth of footage and stills this year, and caught about 70 sprites,” he said to Business Insider. And the bulk of the sprites he has caught came from a single storm.

Sign for McDonald Observatory.
Stephen Hummel, a dark-skies specialist at the McDonald Observatory, was fortunate enough to witness a jellyfish sprite in its full glory. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Hummel notes that the jellyfish sprite he saw was not an ordinary one. Even though it appeared for just an instant, Hummel succeeded in capturing it through the camera. You can only see a jellyfish sprite late at night, far away from a thunderstorm, at a place that is without any light pollution. Hummel was 100 miles away at half-past 1 a.m. when he noticed the jellyfish sprite.

The name sprite was proposed by Davis Sentman, a professor of physics, who thought that it accurately captured the fairy-like, fleeting characteristic of this type of lightning. In addition to the jellyfish sprite, another popular type of sprite commonly seen is the carrot sprite, which looks like a column with long tendrils. When lightning strikes the ground, it releases positive electrical energy. This energy has to be balanced out by an opposite charge somewhere in the sky, which is what gives birth to sprites.

When a sprite sparks, it excites the nitrogen gas in the environment that ends up emitting a red glow, thus giving the sprite its characteristic red color. Sprites can be spotted from space, as some astronauts have attested to seeing them from the International Space Station. Sprites were only documented photographically in 1989. Since then, scientists have spotted sprites on every single continent on earth except Antarctica.

Lightning seen from space.
Some astronauts have attested to seeing sprites from the International Space Station. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Fascinating lightning types

ELVES: These are ultra-bright, ultra-fast bursts of electricity that can appear as rings or halos above clouds. ELVES can extend up to a massive 185 miles. ELVES is actually an acronym that stands for “Emissions of Light and VLF perturbations from EMP events.”

Ball lightning: As the name suggests, ball lightning basically looks like slowly rotating balls of light. These are usually the size of a grapefruit. These lightning balls float about three feet above the ground and can sometimes appear right in the middle of a room. But they usually disappear in about 10 seconds. It was only in 2012 that ball lightning was captured on camera.

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