Enormous bursts of energy known as sprites, blue jets, and crawlers can be seen in this high-definition video, providing the most detailed recording of these remarkable events.
Researchers with the Japan Broadcasting Corporation spotted the electric objects while flying in two jet aircraft. The sprites were seen 46 miles above the ground while the jets and crawlers formed at the top of thunderstorm clouds. Geophysicist Hans Stenbaek-Nielsen of the University of Alaska Fairbanks presented the video at the 2011 American Geophysical Union meeting on Dec. 5.
Scientists refer to these phenomena as transient luminous events. They are caused by electrical discharge high in the atmosphere, far above where lightning usually occurs. The electrical discharge travels at a tenth the speed of light and the events last for mere moments, usually between a millisecond to two seconds.
Video: NHK/Hans Stenbaek-Nielsen