Story published on on 10/29/2019. A sharable version of this story is available here. You can also look at Realtime Sprite Photo Gallery.

Image Credit - Chris Holmes.


This is the picture that captured everyone's attention! It is a photograph of a gigantic jet as observed by pilot Chris Holmes as he traveled at 35,000 ft over the Gulf of Mexico near the Yucatan Peninsula. He noticed the big thunderstorm (or cumulonimbus cloud) producing lots of lightning with sprites and jets. 


Gigantic jets, sometimes called Earth's tallest lightning, are a rare form of lightning recognized formally not that long ago. They reach all the way to the ionosphere. 


So what are sprites and jets and giants? They are all names of types of lightning, but a type of lightning (electrical discharge) that happens in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere, mesosphere, and sometimes, into the ionosphere). They are all generated by thunderstorms, but not from every thunderstorm. 





Researchers have noticed these from space and astronauts onboard the International Space Station have taken photographs of them as well. The following video shows blue jets and other electrical discharges as recorded by an astronaut. 


This image shows you all the different types of lightning of electrical discharges observed in the upper atmosphere.

  • Sprites are major electrical discharges, but they are not lightning in the usual sense. Instead, they are a cold plasma phenomenon without the extremely hot temperatures of lightning that we see underneath thunderstorms.
  • Blue jets are lightning discharges reaching upwards through the stratosphere.

  • Elves are concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse at the bottom edge of the ionosphere.

  • Giants are large discharges that create and electrical breakdown of the atmosphere from the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the ionosphere. 


Upper atmosphere image showing different electric discharges as red sprites, blue jets, and gigantic jets.
Image Credit: NASA


Remember, there is still time to participate of the Fall Clouds Challenge going on now until November 15th! Learn more at



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