OFFICIAL NASA PRESS RELEASE Donald L. Savage Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

July 26, 1994 (Phone: 202/358-1727) Kathy Berry Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks (Phone: 907/474-7798) RELEASE: 94-124 SPECTACULAR COLOR FLASHES RECORDED ABOVE ELECTRICAL STORMS Hundreds of spectacular red and blue flashes of light that extend upward from electrical thunderstorms to altitudes as high as 60 miles (97 km)recently were recorded on video for the first time. The unusual flashes occurred over thunderstorms in the Midwest between June 28 and July 12 during a NASA-sponsored investigation into the phenomenon. To capture the images, Principal Investigators Davis Sentman and Eugene Wescott, professors at the Geophysical Institute with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, (UAF) and co-directors of the research project, used special low-light-level cameras aboard two jet aircraft flown out of Oklahoma City. "The flashes look like the Fourth of July, like Roman candles with fountains," said Sentman. "The video footage we received far exceeded our expectations." Some of the flashes extend up through the ozone layer into the base of the ionosphere, the region of the upper atmosphere where auroras occur. Sentman and Wescott captured 19 black-and white images of the flashes above thunderstorms in the Midwest last year. Before that, scientists did not

have proof that the flashes existed. This month, they were able to accurately measure the position and altitude of the flashes and to examine their color and speed for the first time, using two aircraft for triangulation and improved camera systems designed by Project Engineer Daniel Osborne, with the Geophysical Institute. They also were able to identify two distinctly different kinds of flashes, which they call sprites and blue jets. Sprites are blood red flashes that appear with bluish tendrils dangling from the bottom of some. The flashes, which last only a few thousandths of a second, extend from above storm clouds up to about 60 miles (97 km) high, reaching the bottom of the ionosphere. The researchers also recorded radio noise that coincided with the sprite flashes. When the recorded signals are played through a speaker, they "pop," a sound that differs from normal lightning discharge signals. The sprites have been recorded on a TV spectrograph and will be analyzed to determine their atomic and molecular source. Since they are associated with thunderstorms and lightning, scientists suspect the flashes may be a form of electrical discharge. If so, they could present a concern to high-altitude research aircraft. Blue jets are flashes that appear in narrow beams, sprays, fans or cones of light which give off a blue or purple hue. "To the eye, they resemble material ejected from a high explosive source, the tracks of atomic particles, or rays in a cloud chamber," Wescott said. Pilots and others have reported seeing blue or green columns of light above thunderstorms for years, but Sentman and Wescott were the first to capture them on video. They recorded about a dozen blue jets over an intense storm in Arkansas on June 30. The jets appeared to originate at the top of storm clouds and then to travel upward to an altitude of about 20 miles (32 km). They occurred at various

angles at speeds ranging from 20 to 60 miles a second (32 to 97km/s), which is well above the speed of sound, but far below that of light or radio waves. The scientists coordinated their observations with other groups in Fort Collins, Colorado, Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University, where researchers made video and radio wave observations from the ground. The aircraft were leased by UAF from Aero Air, Inc., Hillsboro, Oregon. - end NOTE TO EDITORS: To illustrate this story, one color and two black and white images and a two minute, 46 second videotape are available to news media by faxing your request to NASA Headquarters Broadcasting and Imaging Branch on 202/358-4333. Photo numbers are: Color: 94-HC-186 B & W: 94-H-200(B&W image of 94-HC-186) 94-H-201 94-H-202

Additional information on observations of the phenomenon can be obtained by faxing NASA Headquarters News and Information Branch on 202/358-4210, requesting Release Number 93-167.