An intense but brief form of lightening known as "red sprites" that occurs high in the atmosphere above large thunderstorms may not be the amorphous blob of light that scientists had first thought. Researchers from Stanford's Very Low Frequency Research Group, who have been studying this phenomenon for several years, now propose that sprites may consist of thousands of fiery streamers, each only a few meters wide. Current observations of sprites, which can be more than 25 miles wide and 25 miles in height, have been made from a considerable distance with high-speed cameras capable of capturing the images of these extremely brief flashes. The best resolution of these images has been several hundred feet, much larger than the size of the streamers that the Stanford model predicts. The group hopes to acquire a special telescope that can capture details in sprites as small as a few feet across. That will allow the scientists to determine if the structure that they have predicted does in fact exist. For more information, contact David F. Salisbury, Stanford News Service, at (650) 725-1944.
January 19, 1998