Maui News

Rare, Colorful Atmospheric Lightning Captured on Gemini Cameras

July 27, 2017, 2:07 PM HST
* Updated July 27, 2:38 PM
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On the night of July 23, 2017, the Gemini North cloud cameras atop Mauna Kea on Hawaiʻi Island captured footage of rare upper atmospheric lightning that occurs well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds.

Gigantic Jets, upper atmospheric lightning that occurs well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds. Photo credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF. Image processing: Steve Cullen

Because the cloud cameras at the facility run all night long, “they occasionally catch incredible events such as these,” an Observatory Facebook post explained.

Peter Michaud with the Gemini Observatory tells Maui Now that the phenomenon occurs when when cloud lightning extends into the upper atmosphere and ionizes the air up to the stratosphere.

In this case, Michaud said it was associated with the remnants of Fernanda.

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National Geographic describes similar activity observed during Hurricane Matthew on the mainland in 2016, and described the colorful phenomenon as “lighting sprites,” or “upward lightning.”  The publication states that they’re “rarely documented because they are so short lived (typically about 10 milliseconds) and are often obscured by clouds.”

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