(ORDO NEWS) — Bright red streaks in the sky known as “red sprites” are visible in this new sky image over the Atacama Desert in Chile near the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) La Silla Observatory.
Red sprites are large-scale electrical discharges high above thunderclouds, usually caused by positive lightning discharges between the underlying thundercloud and the ground. They appear in the Earth’s atmosphere, sometimes at an altitude of 50-90 kilometers.
For centuries, people have told tales of mysterious red lights in the sky that experts usually didn’t take into account.
According to The Farmer’s Almanac, even when they were described by respectable pilots or scientists (including C.T.R. Wilson, Nobel laureate in physics), the scientific community ignored these events.
However, in 1989, scientists from the University of Minnesota did take pictures of red sprites, and attitudes towards them have changed since then.
Although they have been photographed and filmed thousands of times, including by astronauts on the International Space Station, red sprites are still quite rare, and therefore any reason to take a good picture is a holiday for scientists.
The red sprites seem to hang so low above the horizon only because of the perspective of the camera located on the platform of ESO’s 3.6m telescope at La Silla.
The background of the photo has a green tint due to airglow. ESO explained that during the day, sunlight knocks electrons out of nitrogen and oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, and at night, these electrons recombine with atoms and molecules, causing them to glow.
Usually, airglow can only be seen in very dark skies where there is no light pollution. Due to its remoteness, high altitude and lack of light pollution, La Silla is ideal for capturing these unusual phenomena.
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