A Tiger ELVE over Texas

May 2, 2022: For a few milliseconds last Thursday night, an enormous (100 km wide) red ring of light appeared over west Texas. Thomas Ashcraft photographed it from across the state line in New Mexico:

This is an “ELVE”–short for Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources. It’s a rare species of sprite discovered in 1990 by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Ashcraft may have just taken the best ever picture of one from the ground.

“The ELVE was generated by a super-strong lightning stroke that occurred over west Texas near the town of Borger at April 28 2022 0439:10.5326 UT,” says Ashcraft. “Note also the sprite elements at the bottom of the ELVE.”

The lightning bolt was so strong, it generated an intense electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The red ring marks the spot where the EMP hit Earth’s ionosphere. Normal lightning bolts carry 10 to 30 kilo-ampères of current; this bolt was about 10 times stronger than normal.

Above: A close-up view of the ELVE shows “tiger stripes” and sprites near the center of the ring.

“The lightning stroke that manifested this event registered on VLF radios at least as far away as Germany,” notes Ashcraft. “You can actually hear the lightning stroke in my video.”

Bonus: This is also a Tiger ELVE. Note the linear corrugations across the red ring. These are impressed on the ELVE by gravity waves in the upper atmosphere. Like a tiger, this ELVE has stripes.

Learn more about the history and physics of ELVEs here and here.

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