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The Night A Rare Light Phenomenon Was Captured Atop Maunakea

2:07 AM · Feb 26, 2021

Back in 2017, two extreme lightning phenomena were both captured from Maunakea's Gemini Observatory - a red sprite and a blue jet. The red sprite and blue jet are both distinctive because of their colors, and that they strike into the sky, creating a luminous piller extending into space. These large electric discharges occur above thunderstorms and create brief cloud-to-air discharges. A 'sprite' is an acronym for Stratospheric/mesospheric Perturbations Resulting from Intense Thunderstorm Electrification, which appear in the sky for only a fraction of a second. Over the last 3-4 decades the study of red sprites and other associated electromagnetic optical phenomena like blue jets has greatly expanded, while the first mention of such a phenomenon in literature goes back to 1885. On November 23, 1885, T. Mackenzie was aboard the RMS Moselle outside the port of Kingston, Jamaica at dusk when he saw the following; "... and all around the upper edges of this cloud-bank brilliant flashes of light were incessantly bursting forth, sometimes tinged with prismatic hues, while intermittently would shoot vertically upward continuous darts of light displaying prismatic colours of which the complementary tints, crimson and green, orange and blue, predominated. Sometimes these darts of light were projected but a short distance above the cloud-bank, but at others they ascended to a considerable altitude, resembling rockets more than lightning." [Toynbee and Mackenzie, 1886, p. 245] Image credit to Gemini Observatory/ A. Smith

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