Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2001 August 2
Explanation: This dramatic, garishly colored image was captured with a low-light level camera on 2001 June 7. It shows what appears to be a "burning tree" above the National Cheng Kung University campus in Tainan City, Taiwan ... but the burning tree is actually a fleeting red sprite 300 kilometers away. Red sprites are recently discovered and still poorly understood optical flashes seen dancing at altitudes of 30 to 90 kilometers above thunderstorms. Cousins to lightning bolts, red sprites occur near the edge of the atmosphere and have been glimpsed by astronauts from orbit. What ever their cause, the red sprite flashes usually last only tenths to hundredths of a second and characteristically take on shapes which researchers describe as columns, fingers, trees, or carrots.
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.