Photographer Dedicated His Career In Hunting Rare Red Storm Sprites Across North America

On a warm, stormy, summer night in 1989, the University of Minnesota Prof. John R. Winkler looked to the sky and saw something he’d only heard whisperings of. He saw red.

Red sprites, floating down from the very top of the sky. There one second, gone the next.

These red sprites (also known as red lightning or positive lightning) only appear in specific storm conditions, and they only last a fraction of a second. Blink, and you just might miss them. There is anecdotal evidence of these storm sprites dating all the way back to the 1880s. However, we didn’t have a photographic evidence of them until around 100 years later – in 1989.

There are many storm-chasing photographers out there, but photographer Paul M Smith is more specialized than most in his pursuits: he hunts for rare red sprites that occur high above thunderstorm clouds.

Paul M. Smith:Website | Facebook | YouTube


Paul M Smith

“Sprites are sometimes inaccurately called upper-atmospheric lightning,” Wikipedia states. “However, sprites are cold plasma phenomena that lack the hot channel temperatures of tropospheric lightning, so they are more akin to fluorescent tube discharges than to lightning discharges.”

After getting a DSLR and jumping into photography in 2015, Smith has focused on night sky photography, shooting everything from the Milky Way to aurora to thunderstorms. But he’s particularly interested in sprites, and he has even begun offering workshops for other photographers who are interested in capturing sprites on camera.


Paul M Smith

The red color of the sprites is believed to be caused by the interaction between the sprites and nitrogen in the atmosphere, according to the University of Washington. This is why they are also known as “red sprites.”

“Red sprites are short-lived, red flashes that occur about 80 kilometers (50 miles) up in the atmosphere. With long, vertical tendrils like a jellyfish, these electrical discharges can extend 20 to 30 kilometers up into the atmosphere and are connected to thunderstorms and lightning,” NASA reported.

To put their size into perspective, most commercial jets fly at a cruising altitude of around 7 or 8 miles, just a fraction of the altitude of where sprites occur in the atmosphere.


Paul M Smith

This rare phenomenon was captured by nature photographer Paul Smith on two occasions over the past week when severe thunderstorms rumbled over the central U.S. Smith has been specializing in night photography since 2015, capturing mesmerizing images of the aurora, thunderstorms at night and red sprites.

Although sprites are bright and significantly larger than typical lightning bolts, they are seldom seen.

“Red sprites are difficult to observe because they last for just a few milliseconds and occur above thunderstorms — meaning they are usually blocked from view on the ground by the very clouds that produce them,” NASA said on its website.


Paul M Smith

“They are rarely seen with the human eye, so they are most often imaged with highly sensitive cameras,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains in an article exploring various types of lightning.

Sprites are so large and emit so much energy that cameras and instruments on the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits about 250 miles above the Earth’s surface, are able to detect them. Lightning research conducted in space originally helped scientists verify the existence of sprites 30 years ago.

For decades, pilots had reported large flashes of light extending high above thunderstorms, but their reports were largely discounted by the scientific community until the late 1980s.

In 1989, researchers at the University of Minnesota accidentally photographed sprites above a distant thunderstorm while using low-light cameras. Later that year, the existence of sprites was confirmed by instruments flying aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.


Paul M Smith

According to NASA, “in October 1989, Otha ‘Skeet’ Vaughan of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and scientists working on the Mesoscale Lightning Observation Experiment were able to verify the existence of these electrical discharges with their instrument on space shuttle flight STS-34.”

Further research was conducted on additional space shuttle missions and from the ISS, which included the use of low-light cameras to photograph the phenomenon above thunderstorms around the globe.

People hoping to capture an image of sprites for themselves need the proper equipment and a bit of luck. A low-light camera, such as a DSLR, a tripod, and the right perspective of a thunderstorm are needed to photograph a sprite.


Paul M Smith

“Viewers on the ground can photograph sprites by looking out on a thunderstorm in the distance, often looking out from high mountainsides over storms in lower plains,” NASA explained.

However, sprites do not occur during every thunderstorm, so it may take several attempts to capture the elusive phenomonen in a photograph.

Anyone attempting to photograph lightning should do so with caution and from a safe distance as to not be in danger of being struck by lighting. Most lightning strikes close to a thunderstorm, but some bolts can strike over 10 miles away without warning.


Paul M Smith

While Smith prefers to keep his exact methods behind his sprite photos private for now, it seems that the sprite images you’ll find out there (including the first one captured back in 1989) are generally still frames extracted from video.


Paul M Smith

Smith also sets up multiple cameras during storms, sometimes catching the same sprite from different locations.

If you’d like to see what sprites look like on video, here’s one of Smith’s captures:

This Man Tells His Fiancée That His House Is In His Teen Daughter’s Name As An Inheritance From Her Late Mother, The Woman Throws A Tantrum

In today’s age, the man doesn’t own the woman anything. So does the woman. Although the patriarchal society is still thriving and men are expected to bring their wives to their property, times have changed. Some are very lucky to invite their special someone to live together in their own place, but that is no longer the case for many. With house prices increasing every year, it’s tough, some might think even nearly impossible, to become a homeowner. And unfortunately, the amount needed to afford a house isn’t the sum of money you can save by giving up Netflix.

Well, this post isn’t exactly about inflation or homeownership being millennials’ distant dream. Instead, it’s about the woman who felt entitled to live in the house that lawfully belonged to her fiancé’s daughter. The story goes that the Original Poster got engaged to a widower whose late wife left their home to their 15-year-old daughter. The OP was appalled to find out that the house they planned to move into together was not rightfully his and threw a tantrum.

The OP turned to Reddit’s AITA community to describe her situation and help her realize if she was “AITA for calling [her] fiancé a jerk?” Other than being named the A-hole, OP also received the title of a gold-digger. Scroll further to read the full story and what Redditors had to say. What do you think? And when you are done with this one, check out our recent AITA stories herehere, and here

More info: Reddit

The woman who got engaged to her boyfriend of two years found out that his home actually belonged to his teen daughter and made a huge scene out of it

Image credits: Brian Evans (not the actual image)

Image credits: AITA_516541

Her fiancé’s first wife passed away five years ago and left their home as an inheritance to their 15-year-old daughter

Image credits: Sonja Lovas (not the actual image)

The OP “wanted his daughter out of the master because it was [theirs]”

Image credits: AITA_516541

Not only the house but the car which OP used to drive was also registered to the 15-year-old

Image credits: crash71100 (not the actual image) 

“Things are over”: after OP’s fiancé found and read the post, he wanted his ring back

Image credits: AITA_516541

Readers were almost entirely unanimous on their decision – other than acting like a complete a-hole, the woman behaved like a gold digger too

    Pin It on Pinterest