Red-colored lightning sprites were seen over the weekend near Puerto Rico as Hurrican Mathew was moving across the Caribbean Sea
Hurricane Matthew has weakened slightly of late but it is still a strong and dangerous storm. Earlier this week, the hurricane strengthened into a Category 5 storm and was sweeping across the Caribbean Sea when a keen photographer caught the glimpse of an unusual phenomenon called lightning sprites.
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Lightning sprites were captured about 400 miles southwest of Puerto Rico as they were dancing right above the powerful hurricane packing strong winds, illustrating both the ferocity of a turbulent atmosphere and the beauty of nature.
Lightning sprites, also known as upward lightning, are sharp bursts of light that last only few milliseconds and appear directly above thunderstorm clouds. Predominately red in color, the flashes are caused when the electricity discharged from the top of the cloud interacts with the gases in the atmosphere.
Since lightning sprites rarely happen, much about them remains a mystery. These brilliant flashes were first photographed in July 1989 and have subsequently captured many of times. But scientists are still scratching their heads trying to figure out what cause their shape and what kind of impact they can have on weather.
Lightning sprites not happen in every storm and if they do, it is hard to see them with naked eye. They are mostly obscured by clouds and other lightning.
National Geographic’s Andrew Fazekas gives some tips on how to watch these momentary flashes of brilliant red light as they flicker in the night sky.
“To see them with naked eye during a storm, find a sheltered location far away from the blinding lights of the city. Haze and air pollution can also block sprites from view. Gaze well above the top of a thundercloud while blocking out all the lightning action below with a piece of cardboard. Expect them to occur every 10 minutes or so on average at the height of the storm.”