top of page

Electric ‘Jellyfish’ Spotted Flashing Above Storm In Night Sky

Lightning bolts can be extremely dangerous yet hauntingly beautiful, and over the weekend, one photographer managed to capture video of a type of lightning that very few have ever seen.

Around midnight local time on May 9, a photographer in Guiyang, China, watched a thunderstorm rumbling in the distance with a camera focused on the top of the storm in an effort to photograph the fleeting phenomenon known as a lightning sprite.

A sprite is a large discharge of electricity high in the atmosphere miles above a severe thunderstorm that can extend almost to the edge of space, which is considered to be around 62 miles (100 km) above the Earth’s surface.

One of the most common types of sprites is the red "jellyfish sprite" due to the tendrils that extend downward similar to the tentacles of a jellyfish.

Careful planning and a bit of luck are needed for any hopes of capturing the elusive lightning bolt on camera.

A jellyfish sprite over Guiyang, China, that was photographed on May 9, 2021. (Image/Newsflare)

The photographer in China was the right distance away from the faraway storm and was focused miles above the cloud tops with very specific camera settings.

Sprites only last for about 10 to 100 milliseconds, which is why they are easy to miss despite being dozen of miles in length.

The photographer in China enjoyed some good luck as well, capturing not one, but two sprites back-to-back in the blink of an eye.

Sprites have been observed above every continent on the globe except for Antarctica, but happen with most frequency over the central United States around Tornado Alley.

This loop shows two sprites over Guiyang, China, on May 9, first in real-time and second in slow motion. (Image/Newsflare)

The deep red color is believed to be the result of the lightning interacting with nitrogen in the atmosphere, the University of Washington explained.

The phenomenon may also be accompanied by a large, rapidly expanding halo of light known as an Elve, but the two do not always occur at the same time.

Sprites are so large that they have been spotted by cameras on the International Space Station, which orbits the Earth around 250 miles above the planet’s surface.

A Space Shuttle mission in 1989 actually helped to confirm the existence of sprites. Prior to the space flight, sprites were reported by pilots but discounted by many scientists before first being photographed on accident in July of 1989, NASA said.

An illustration of different kinds of transient luminous events (TLEs). (Image/NOAA)

Since then, sprites have been documented all around the globe, including over powerful tropical systems, such as Hurricane Matthew in 2016, CNET said.

People hoping to photograph the phenomenon for themselves will need to wait for a night when a strong thunderstorm is off in the distance and use a low-light camera, such as a DSLR, to capture a sprite on film.


By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer

89 views0 comments


bottom of page