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Earth ISS Space Science

Mysterious Sprite Photographed By ISS Astronaut 86

Posted by samzenpus
from the pretty-pictures dept.
astroengine writes "A very rare and beautiful view of a red sprite has been photographed by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) hovering just above a bright flash of lightning in a thunderstorm over Myanmar. First documented in a photo in 1989, red sprites are very brief flashes of optical activity that are associated with powerful lightning discharges in storms — although the exact mechanisms that create them aren't yet known. But the orbiting outpost seems like the perfect vantage point to learn more about them!"
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Mysterious Sprite Photographed By ISS Astronaut

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  • I watched the video [nasa.gov], but could not find the still from TFA in it. At what point does the sprite happen?

  • The red lectroids are coming, the red lectroids are coming!
  • by dtmos (447842) * on Friday July 13, 2012 @06:07AM (#40637263)

    A very rare and beautiful view of a red sprite has been photographed by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) hovering just above a bright flash of lightning in a thunderstorm over Myanmar.

    You see, this is the kind of poor journalism that gets me upset: The International Space Station somehow manages to come to a complete stop in its orbit and hover -- or somehow move out to the Clarke Belt, and stay geosynchronous -- and what does the reporter think is newsworthy? The pretty photograph it took while it was there.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      From the context of what was written, I didn't parse it as the space station doing the hovering, but the sprite doing the hovering.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Read english:

      A very rare and beautiful view of a red sprite has been photographed, by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), hovering just above a bright flash of lightning in a thunderstorm over Myanmar.

      • by dtmos (447842) *

        A very rare and beautiful view of a red sprite has been photographed, by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), hovering just above a bright flash of lightning in a thunderstorm over Myanmar.

        That's one possibility, to be sure, but I would have preferred:

        A very rare and beautiful red sprite, hovering just above a bright flash of lightning in a thunderstorm over Myanmar, has been photographed by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

        I'm still not wild about "hovering", especially for such a transient phenomenon, but none of the alternatives that come to mind (replacing with "appearing" or "visible", or just deleting the word) fill me with enthusiasm, so it gets a shrug for now.

        • by meglon (1001833)
          How about: magicalmaterializationpoofitstherediscombobluation event? That's better than hovering any day of the week.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, the first comma shouldn't be there. Commas, in this case, set off the subordinate clause that begins with "hovering just above". You can determine if a clause is subordinate by moving it around in the sentence and checking that the sentence still makes sense.

        Hovering just above a bright flash of lightning in a thunderstorm over Myanmar, a very rare and beautiful view of a red sprite has been photographed by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

        or

        A very rare and b

    • Get used to it. The field of journalism has been gutted by news being freely available on the internet. Ads don't pay enough to pay for the level of journalism and editorial oversight that you want and people are increasingly less willing to pay for higher quality news. Grammar errors aren't going to go away or become less frequent.

    • by AaronLS (1804210)

      Who else read "Mysterious Sprite Photographed" and instantly thought they were talking the soda and immediately thought "WTF makes a Sprite mysterious?"

  • That's where Top Gun was filmed, right?
  • Sprite? (Score:2, Funny)

    by rossdee (243626)

    Ah those were the days - when the graphics chips moved objects around the screen called sprites, and you could do fancy things with copper lists...

    Going even further back, there was the Austin-Healy Sprite, a traditional British sportscar

    And back more on topic - Why do Astronauts drink Sprite? Because they can't get 7-Up

  • The video on the link of Saturn's aurora includes some lovely animation.
  • I can almost taste it's tingling tartness!
  • by Sgs-Cruz (526085) on Friday July 13, 2012 @07:09AM (#40637469) Homepage Journal

    Wow, that looks extremely similar to the red light created by the Starfish Prime [damninteresting.com] thermonuclear bomb detonation in space! In that case, it was fast electrons from the nuclear explosion, spiralling along magnetic field lines and eventually colliding with oxygen atoms in the atmosphere, which emit a red glow when excited.

    I'm going to guess that this is a picture of oxygen being excited by runaway electrons produced by lightning [google.com]. Cool!

    • by DMorritt (923396)
      Interesting article that, I do wonder if it's easier to look for the red sprites on other planets, or just the flashes from the lightning though, at what point is it easier to detect a very brief sprite than the bright ligntning flash? Would have to be some seriously thick atmosphere at the lower levels to hide the flash but make the sprite the only bit visible. Surely if a planet had that thick an atmosphere, there would be other reasons for not being likely to support life?
    • by Grog6 (85859)

      Yup.

      Pretty much the electrons that weren't neutralized at the cloud because they were moving too fast. :)

      Another interesting thing about lightning is that if it's strong enough, a strike will give off measurable 511keV gammas... possibly due to pair-production reactions.

    • by jbezorg (1263978)

      I was thinking along the lines of an aurora event. Solar radiation and nitrogen in the thermosphere. I wonder if the sprite and lightning strike are along/close to a magnetic field line in Earths magnetosphere.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The red seen in the image of the sprite from the ISS is caused by emission of molecular nitrogen. See Kanmae et al. 2010a for a description of how the spectral content is measured. Sprites also have some blue emission, which normally is only seen from a high flying airplane, or the spacecraft due to the scattering of the blue light by the atmosphere. Another reference to the blue end of the sprite spectrum can be found in Kanmae et al 2010b.

      Interestingly we are currently making sprite observations with

  • That looks like it might be excited hydrogen.

  • Much more cost effective and much better coverage would be obtained by a fleet of microsatellites with cameras and special software to identify and photograph such events.
  • That Cupola dome on the ISS has been worth every penny put into it. The sheer volume of photo and video being transmitted back from the station and into the public domain is staggering.

    And as this incident reveals, these photographs serve as an important observational record too.

    In fact, it's rather disappointing that we have so few satellites capable of simply taking pictures of the earth(excepting spy satellites which take pictures of only very small parts of it). It might seem frivolous, but the reality is that we really don't know what phenomena or new perspectives we are likely to see from space. To say nothing of the public and educational outreach afforded by such images.

    Would it really cost so much to send up small satellites with embedded cameras? Couldn't we do without one or two bank CEOs in return for high def pictures of our planet?

  • I prefer my lightning phenomena in 3-d. This is the Warcraft 2 of space.
  • There are a couple misleading things in that summary. It's actually not really a "lightning flash" it's an electrical discharge that heads way the hell up into the atmosphere instead of touching the ground. They're like 10x taller than a lightning strike to the ground too (50 miles approx)
    This is less of a one in a million shot than they make it sound, as there's a lot more light emitted so it sort of bounces around for a lot longer than normal lightning. By the looks of the light spread in that photo, h
  • For thoses who are watching the video. It is at the 6 sec mark in the middle right. http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/Videos/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/myanmar_iss_20120430/myanmar_iss_20120430HD_web.mov [nasa.gov]
  • by ImprovOmega (744717) on Friday July 13, 2012 @12:41PM (#40640733)
    It's probably one of the tens of thousands of alien vessels monitoring our world. Every once in a while a lightning storm overloads their cloaking equipment and we see it as a bright flash. I'm sure the captain of the Myanmar surveillance contingent will be properly disciplined and reduced in rank for allow one of his ships to be seen even indirectly by the subjects under observation.

    Luckily no one will believe the real truth thanks to a long running public disinformation campaign designed to discredit all claims of alien interaction. Roswell was the first major mishap (stupid joyriding teenagers). Area 51 doesn't actually contain anything, the ship itself was towed and the kids sent for reprogramming, but the distraction was necessary.

    Anyway, carry on, your theories are amusing to us.
  • And I though we had until Dec 2012...

  • Ready the SD platforms...

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