RED SPRITES OVER EUROPE: As September begins, solar activity is low. Nevertheless, space weather continues. High above thunderstorms in Europe, red sprites are dancing across the cloudtops, reaching up to the edge of space itself. Martin Popek photographed these specimens on Sept. 1st from Nýdek, the Czech republic:
"I used a zoom lens for a close-up view of these sprites, which could just be seen over the treetops as they jumped upward from a distant storm," says Popek.
Inhabiting the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere alongside noctilucent clouds, meteors, and some auroras, sprites are a true space weather phenomenon. Some researchers believe they are linked to cosmic rays: subatomic particles from deep space striking the top of Earth's atmosphere produce secondary electrons that, in turn, could provide the spark that triggers sprites.
Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now "sprite chasers" regularly photograph the upward bolts from their own homes.