June 2, 2018: Oklahoma is a good place to see sprites. “I photograph them often,” says Paul Smith of Edmond OK. “Here are some examples from May 30th flashing above fast-moving storms in the Oklahoma panhandle.”
“Venus is the bright ‘star’ just behind the windmill,” he adds.
Oklahoma is the epicenter of a region that we call “Sprite Alley,” a corridor stretching across the US Great Plains where intense thunderstorms produce lots of upward directed lightning–a.k.a. “sprites.”
“I have been recording sprites since last summer when I accidentally caught a few during the Perseid meteor shower,” says Smith. “I now have a couple of hundred events on camera and I am out almost every night there are storms in my vicinity.”
The blue pushpin in the satellite weather map, above, shows Smith’s location. The blue arrow points to the storm cell that produced the sprites.
People have been seeing sprites since at least the 19th century, but those early reports were often met with skepticism. Sprites entered the mainstream in 1989 when researchers from the University of Minnesota finally captured them on film. Subsequent video footage from the space shuttle cemented their status as an authentic physical phenomenon.
In recent years, citizen scientists have been photographing sprites in record numbers. But why? It could be a result of raised awareness. More photographers know about sprites, so naturally more sprite photos are taken. There might also be a real increase in sprite activity. Some researchers think that sprites are linked to cosmic rays: Subatomic particles from deep space strike the top of Earth’s atmosphere, producing secondary electrons that trigger the upward bolts. Indeed, cosmic rays are now intensifying due to the decline of the solar cycle.
It all adds up to more sprites over Oklahoma. More examples may be found on Paul Smith’s Facebook page.