Dancing 'sprites' and 'elves' observed over Israel for first time

Flashes of light that last only thousandths of seconds were seen by Mitzpe Ramon observatory.

January 16, 2006 02:10
2 minute read.

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Red and blue "sprites" and "elves" - powerful flashes of light that last for only thousandths of a second - have been seen for the first time 50 to 80 kilometers over Israel by Tel Aviv University and Open University researchers. They reported that this unusual electrical activity, linked to the welcome thunderstorms and rain in recent days, was viewed above the clouds from TAU's Wise Observatory at Mitzpe Ramon on the nights of January 13 and 14. The figures look like jellyfish, carrot tops or giant bagel-shaped coins of light with a hole in the center. Dr. Yoav Ya'ir of the Open University and Prof. Colin Price of TAU used special cameras that scanned the skies above the thunderstorms that occurred over Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea as far as Cyprus - between 250 and 400 kilometers from the Negev observatory. A special program identified the short-lived flashes that the naked eye can only extremely rarely pick up because they are so short-lived and occur above the cloud cover during thunderstorms. It was the first time such a phenomenon has been seen over Israel and only the second time in the world - after Japan - during winter storms. Elsewhere in the world, such "sprites" and "elves" have been observed only during summer storms. The Israeli researchers are focusing on identifying the meteorological conditions that cause these phenomena and their influence on the upper atmosphere and its chemical and physical processes. The research is being conducted with cooperation from scientists around the world, with data on the lightning that causes "sprites" and "elves" received by ground stations in Hungary, Antarctica, the US and Japan. This data has helped the Israelis locate the flashes. The researchers also intend to coordinate their observations with a Taiwanese satellite that is scanning the upper atmosphere as part of its research into the phenomenon.

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