Viewing from a point over northwest Mexico, astronauts aboard the International Space Station looked northeast and shot this unusual photograph of a red sprite above the white light of an active thunderstorm (image top left). The sprite was 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) away, high over Missouri or Illinois; the lights of Dallas, Texas appear in the foreground. The sprite shoots up to the greenish airglow layer, near a rising moon.
These photos show the sprite's tendrils reaching as much as 100 kilometers above Earth's surface. Sprites are major electrical discharges, but they are not lightning in the usual sense. Instead, they are a cold plasma phenomenon without the extremely hot temperatures of lightning that we see underneath thunderstorms. Red sprites are more like the discharge of a fluorescent tube. Bursts of sprite energy are thought to occur during most large thunderstorm events. They were first photographed in 1989.