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See Elusive 'Red Sprites' Lightning Blaze Against a Starry Sky

Shh. Don't say a thing. Just lose yourself in this ethereal lightshow.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
Painterly landscape of mountains and star-studded night sky with a glowing red brush-like lightning phenomenon.
Enlarge Image
Painterly landscape of mountains and star-studded night sky with a glowing red brush-like lightning phenomenon.

This cropped view highlights the red spites seen as bright red streaks from La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Zdenek Bardon/ESO

For a long time, red sprites seemed mythical. The rare form of lightning that appears as red streaks above storm clouds had been reported in the past, but there was little in the way of hard evidence until they were captured in a photograph in 1989. An image released on Monday highlights just how beautiful these elusive sprites can be.

Astronomer Zdenek Bardon captured the view at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile. The ESO shared the image as its picture of the week. 

The sublime photo looks like a painting as layers of mountain peaks stretch along the horizon beneath a green airglow radiating low across the night sky. Stars shine through in the dark, and the sprites have a pattern like upward brushstrokes.

Sprites are one of a series of lightning phenomena with fantastical names. There are also elves and giant jets. Check out this incredible upside-down lightning bolt that grazed the edge of space. 

Painterly landscape of mountains and star-studded night sky with a glowing red brush-like lightning phenomenon.
Enlarge Image
Painterly landscape of mountains and star-studded night sky with a glowing red brush-like lightning phenomenon.

Here is full image taken in Chile.

Zdenek Bardon/ESO

These wild occurrences are much more difficult to catch than what we typically see from the ground when we watch thunderstorms.

"In addition to occurring much higher in the sky than regular lightning, they are cooler than the white lightning we usually see and appear much fainter," ESO said of the red sprites.

Sprites have been photographed from the International Space Station, as well as from the ground. Bardon's image from Chile is exceptional for its beauty.

"Because of its high altitude and lack of light pollution," the ESO said, "La Silla is perfect for capturing these unusual phenomena."