Red sprites: Photographer discovers the mysterious world of a rare atmospheric phenomenon

A photographer who was preparing to capture thunderclouds against the background of the night sky suddenly witnessed a rare atmospheric phenomenon – red sprites over Arizona.

Red sprites over Arizona. Photo: Greg McCown

Greg McCown was planning a photography tour for June 16. But, on that day, meteorologists reported the absence of any thunderclouds. Therefore, McCown redirected his group to Windy Point, located at the top of Mount Lemmon.

“A large storm moved clear down in Mexico about 150 miles south of our position at Windy Point lining up perfectly with the Milky Way core. After some instruction on how to photograph sprites, most in our group were able to catch these elusive gems,” said McCown.

What are sprites?

Sprites are atmospheric discharges discovered only about 20 years ago. They occur at a high altitude, about 80 km above a thunderstorm, immediately after a lightning strike.

Red sprite flares can have different shapes. One of the very rare forms is a phenomenon called ELVE, which is also the largest and rarest. To see it, it is necessary to be far away from the thunderstorm. One of the photographers, Valter Binotto, was able to capture this phenomenon in Italy back in March 2023. 

“I’ve photographed them about five times before. As soon as we saw the big storm down in Mexico on radar we knew we had a good chance,” added McCown.

To photograph sprites from the top of Mount Lemmon, McCone used a Nikon Z6 camera and a 50 mm lens.

Together with John Sirlin, McCone runs the company Storm Photo Tours and specializes in photographing storms. They conduct workshops for photographers in May and June on the plains and in summer during the monsoon season in July and August. You can see more of Greg McCown’s work on his Instagram pages and his website.

Earlier we reported how an astrophotographer noticed two of the rarest atmospheric phenomena.

According to PetaPixel

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