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Name: Jeremy
Status: educator
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

How can red sprite or blue jet "lightning" which is released from the top of the cloud be explained? Where is the electrical energy expelled from these phenomena going?


A lot of research and cloud modeling has taken place over the last 5 years to explain sprites and elves (blue jets). The energy that leads to these phenomena clearly comes about as a result of cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning discharges, although a sprite or jet occurs only once for every 100 or so CGs. Much like ground lightning strokes, the shape, horizontal and vertical extent, and energy of sprites and elves can vary greatly, probably as a result of the strength of charge separation in the cloud. The shapes of sprites are partially determined by whether the CG has positive or negative polarity. The energy is expelled directly above the storm and can reach tens of miles above the Earth. Sprites have been found to be electrically similar to streamer discharges (the weak electrical flows from a cloud and the ground before a CG strike).

David Cook
Lightning researcher
Argonne National Laboratory

The physics of lightning is quite complex. The clearest treatment of the physics of lightning I've seen can be found in Vol. II of Richard Feynman's LECTURES ON PHYSICS which you should be able to find in the library.

Vince Calder

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