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Mysterious Sprite Photographed By ISS Astronaut

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the pretty-pictures dept.

Earth 86

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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86 comments

So... (-1)

shokk (187512) | about 2 years ago | (#40637135)

So now we're living in that episode of Star Trek Voyager?

Not big news. (5, Funny)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#40637245)

It's just a palette swap from a blue sprite. Try attacking it with ice or water attacks.

I am disappoint (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637139)

Mysterious, photographed by ISS and no mention of aliens. I am disappoint.

Re:I am disappoint (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 2 years ago | (#40637173)

Don't you get it? What else do you think causes these mysterious optical activities!

Re:I am disappoint (4, Funny)

jpate (1356395) | about 2 years ago | (#40637259)

THIS IS A PICTURE OF THOR

Re:I am disappoint (0)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#40637779)

THIS IS A PICTURE OF THOR

No way. If it was, the sprites would be blonde.

Re:I am disappoint (3)

whitroth (9367) | about 2 years ago | (#40640565)

Ignorant. The Real Thor had many nicknames, of which a common one was Redbeard.

                mark

Thor leaps on a horse, and cries, "Giddyap! I am Thor!"
Horse: Of course your thore, you forgot your thaddle, thilly.

Re:I am disappoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40646701)

Your Thor?! I'm tho thor I can hardly pith...

Re:I am disappoint (2)

Higgs Bosun (2676655) | about 2 years ago | (#40637175)

Me too, but only because I thought they had photographed Pac-Man or Mario in space :(

Re:I am disappoint (2)

Zelaron (1358987) | about 2 years ago | (#40637449)

Mysterious, photographed by ISS and no mention of aliens. I am disappoint.

Actually, TFA does mention aliens:

ANALYSIS: Otherworldly Sprites May Signal Alien Life

Re:I am disappoint (1)

Zelaron (1358987) | about 2 years ago | (#40637497)

Discovery News should learn not to point their links to the wrong articles... Anyway, here we go: OTHERWORLDLY SPRITES MAY SIGNAL ALIEN LIFE [discovery.com]

Because sprites are connected to lightning, and lightning plays a key role in many theories concerning how life first developed on Earth, it stands to reason that the existence of sprites on other planets (both in our own solar system and others) may be something to look out for when searching for signs of alien life, according to Dubrovin.

Re:I am disappoint (4, Informative)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#40637717)

Well.. it's a very poorly worded headline. The Analysis is quite clearheaded. Researchers have seen sprites in other atmospheres indicating that lightning is occurring. Since our current theories of the creation of life believe lightning played a part in the formation of organic matter then it's another indication that some of the correct conditions for the creation of life exist on other planets. No conclusive evidence of anything... just more evidence backing up what we currently believe to be true.

Re:I am disappoint (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637971)

Lightning may sometimes also cause mutations in bacteria close to the strike. Just think of it as another variety of ionizing radiation.

Re:I am disappoint (1)

Monsieur Canard (766354) | about 2 years ago | (#40637749)

No no. If "It's A Wondeful Life" taught us nothing else, it's "When a red sprite steals your breath, an angel dies a fiery death."

Angelic atmospheric re-entry. Easy enough.

Re:I am disappoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638825)

It could be Kosst Amojan finding a new celestial temple

Re:I am disappoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638469)

The correct form is "disappointed". If you had stayed in school, you would know that.

Re:I am disappoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638781)

Wow, I am so glad I'm not you.

Re:I am disappoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40639709)

Mysterious, photographed by ISS and no mention of aliens. I am disappoint.

From the Book of G'Kar (New Interplanetary Heretical Translation):

There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They're vast, timeless, and if they're aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we've tried, and we've learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on.

That's it? That's all you know?

Yes, they are a mystery. And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, they walk near the upper atmosphere, and they must walk there alone.

Where (when) is it? (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | about 2 years ago | (#40637227)

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

Re:Where (when) is it? (5, Informative)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | about 2 years ago | (#40637251)

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

Never mind! I found it. It's about 4 seconds into the video in the upper right. It flashed by very quickly so it is easy to miss.

When man bites dog, it's news (5, Funny)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (2)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 years ago | (#40637301)

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.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (4, Informative)

cob666 (656740) | about 2 years ago | (#40637411)

That's why dangling participles should be avoided, the antecedent is ambiguous.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (1)

meglon (1001833) | about 2 years ago | (#40638345)

Dangling participles should be avoided because of that nun with the ruler. One hard thwack and you'll know not to be dangling them again.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637543)

You hear that "whooosh" sound? That wasn't the space station or the sprite...

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637665)

Cue Rainier Wolfcastle: "THAT'S THE JOKE"

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638377)

Well I just read your post as "the sprite doing the hoovering"... and I wanted one for myself !

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637311)

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.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (1)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#40637997)

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.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (0)

meglon (1001833) | about 2 years ago | (#40638325)

How about: magicalmaterializationpoofitstherediscombobluation event? That's better than hovering any day of the week.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638347)

I tink dis is what dey wuz tryin to say:

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

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638875)

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 beautiful view of a 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).

Try moving the phrase "by Expedition 31 astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS)" around and you'll see that it can't be easily moved. For example, the following configuration makes no sense.

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

The phrase isn't subordinate and shouldn't be set off by commas. Thus, although awkward, the grammatically correct sentence should be as follows.

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.

Thank you for reading long enough to get to the end of this super-pedantic post. :)

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40638097)

Active voice to the rescue: "Astronauts aboard the ISS photographed a red sprite hovering above a flash of lightning."

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (2)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about 2 years ago | (#40639231)

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.

Re:When man bites dog, it's news (1)

AaronLS (1804210) | about 2 years ago | (#40640971)

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

Myanmar? (2)

dohzer (867770) | about 2 years ago | (#40637271)

That's where Top Gun was filmed, right?

Re:Myanmar? (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637291)

I'm pretty sure it's where Myan's come from and I think their capital is Myer... I haven't got a citation but I think my information is fairly accurate.

Re:Myanmar? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637725)

So Mike Myers is not canadian after all?

Sprite? (1, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#40637351)

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

Re:Sprite? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40639593)

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

I can't speak for astronauts, but that's about the only reason I'd drink it, sprite.

Re:Sprite? (1)

ImprovOmega (744717) | about 2 years ago | (#40640631)

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

Still too soon man, too soon.

Runaway electrons colliding into oxygen (5, Informative)

Sgs-Cruz (526085) | about 2 years ago | (#40637469)

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!

Re:Runaway electrons colliding into oxygen (1)

DMorritt (923396) | about 2 years ago | (#40637735)

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?

Re:Runaway electrons colliding into oxygen (2)

Grog6 (85859) | about 2 years ago | (#40639847)

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.

Re:Runaway electrons colliding into oxygen (1)

jbezorg (1263978) | about 2 years ago | (#40639895)

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.

Re:Runaway electrons colliding into oxygen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40642767)

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 high speed cameras at Langmuir Laboratory in New Mexico. The ISS photo is very beautiful, and is part of an ongoing study of sprites and related phenomena from the ISS.

References:
Kanmae et al., 2010a; JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 115, A00E48, doi:10.1029/2009JA014546, 2010
Kanmae et al., 2010b; GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 37, L13808, doi:10.1029/2010GL043739, 2010

Clearly a quest-giving NPC down there (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40637615)

nt

Lens flare? (-1, Troll)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | about 2 years ago | (#40637669)

It looks a lot like flare + chromatic aberration to me.
But if it has been seen & reported before, then it might be worth investigating it.

Re:Lens flare? (4, Funny)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#40637975)

Another decades-old mystery solved by a Slashdot poster!

Oh, wait. No.

Re:Lens flare? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40641507)

News flash: ideas aren't automatically wrong just because they weren't first suggested by some snob with a Ph.D.

looks like... (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#40637833)

That looks like it might be excited hydrogen.

Re:looks like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40642931)

That looks like it might be excited hydrogen.

Mine's bored to tears, and my friend Jim says his is feeling a little sad.

not so perfect outpost (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#40638115)

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.

Cupola was Worth It (5, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 2 years ago | (#40638457)

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?

not exactly accurate (0)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#40639173)

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, he actually missed the discharge itself and that's just the resulting glow. You can find some really, really good shots of what one actually looks like using google image search.

Lightning synchronization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40639179)

I thought the whole video was interesting. It was especially cool to see synchronization of some of the lightning flashes over long distances. At around 24sec, you can see multiple lightning flashes that occur simultaneously even though it appears they are spaced many miles apart. I didn't know lightning was linked over such great distances.

DUH! not mysterious at all... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40640197)

It's very obviously this viewed from a different angle:

1 REM UP, UP, AND AWAY
5 PRINT "(CLR/HOME)"
10 V = 53248 : REM START OF DISPLAY CHIP
11 POKE V + 21,4 : REM ENABLE SPRITE 2
12 POKE 2042,13 : REM SPRITE 2 DATA FROM BLOCK 13
20 FOR N = 0 TO 62 : READ Q : POKE 832+N,Q : NEXT
30 FOR X = 0 TO 200
40 POKE V + 4,X : REM UPDATE X COORDINATES
50 POKE V + 5,X : REM UPDATE Y COORDINATES
60 NEXT X
70 GOTO 30
200 DATA 0,127,0,1,255,192,3,255,224,3,231,224
210 DATA 7,217,240,7,223,240,7,217,240,3,231,224
220 DATA 3,255,224,3,255,224,2,255,160,1,127,64
230 DATA 1,62,64,0,156,128,0,156,128,0,73,0,0,73,0
240 DATA 0,62,0,0,62,0,0,62,0,0,28,0

duh?!?!!!!

Cloaking Device Fail (4, Funny)

ImprovOmega (744717) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

lightning aurora (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40640911)

Id be willing to bet that the red sprite is from charged particles hitting the ionosphere, creating an aurora from the inside.

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