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Rare red sprites photographed in the night sky look like an alien invasion

Published Aug 16th, 2023 3:06PM EDT
Image: astrosystem / Adobe

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While leading a storm tour photography group in June, photographer Greg McCown captured a rare phenomenon in the sky when red sprites appeared above Windy Point on top of Mount Lemmon. While these sprites might look like something alien, they’re actually perfectly natural.

Discovered within the last 20 years, sprites are discharges from lightning in the upper atmosphere, according to PetaPixel. Sprites can take on many different shapes when they form in the upper atmosphere, and McCown says they are relatively rare, and only happen when you catch a storm just right.

Luckily, McCown and the people on his tour were ready to capture evidence of the red sprites when they appeared in the sky, forever capturing the phenomena in beautiful photographs that were later shared on Instagram. McCown says that he has photographed sprites like this around five times now.

He also says that the storm that created the effects in the sky was first spotted over Mexico, and that when they spotted it on the radar, they thought they might have a good chance of capturing something intriguing. That gut feeling paid off, too. 

Red sprites like this aren’t the only light shows appearing in the sky like this. We’ve also seen rare pink auroras appear in the sky, too. And some photographers have even captured beautiful time-lapses of lightning strikes to give us detailed looks at thunderstorms like those violent enough to cause sprites to appear in the upper atmosphere.

Our planet is full of many things that can awe and inspire, and being able to capture things like these rare red sprites in the night sky is just one way that we’re able to enjoy those phenomena when they happen. Not only does it allow the moment to be immortalized in the image forever, but it also gives people who weren’t present at the time a chance to enjoy it as well.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.