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By Wayne Curtis

Ten years ago a trio of scientists from the University of Minnesota was testing out a low-light video camera, a specialized tool typically used for studying the aurora borealis. They swiveled the camera toward the southeastern horizon.


And then the strangest thing happened. 

The camera captured an ethereal red flash, as dim as it was fleeting, which pulsed upward far above the ground, far above the cloud tops, and far out to the edges of the Earth's atmosphere.

The group had unwittingly captured the first proof of "sprites."

Since then, this elusive form of lightning has become the hot topic among weather scientists. So what are sprites? And what do they mean to life down here on Earth?


 

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Pictures: Courtesy of Dave Sentman/Geophysical Institute/University of Alaska Fairbanks | NOAA Central Library | DCI |
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