From Glossary of Meteorology


Weak luminous emissions that appear directly above an active thunderstorm and are coincident with cloud-to-ground or intracloud lightning flashes.

Their spatial structures range from small single or multiple vertically elongated spots, to spots with faint extrusions above and below, to bright groupings that extend from the cloud tops to altitudes up to about 95 km. Sprites are predominantly red. The brightest region lies in the altitude range 65–75 km, above which there is often a faint red glow or wispy structure that extends to about 90 km. Below the bright red region, blue tendril-like filamentary structures often extend downward to as low as 40 km. High-speed photometer measurements show that the duration of sprites is only a few milliseconds. Current evidence strongly suggests that sprites preferentially occur in decaying portions of thunderstorms and are correlated with large positive cloud-to-ground flashes. The optical intensity of sprite clusters, estimated by comparison with tabulated stellar intensities, is comparable to a moderately bright auroral arc. The optical energy is roughly 10– 50 kJ per event, with a corresponding optical power of 5–25 MW. Assuming that optical energy constitutes 10-3 of the total for the event, the energy and power are on the order of 10–100 MJ and 5–50 GW, respectively. Early research reports for these events referred to them by a variety of names, including upward lightning, upward discharges, cloud-to-stratosphere discharges, and cloud-to-ionosphere discharges. Now they are simply referred to as sprites, a whimsical term that evokes a sense of their fleeting nature, while at the same time remaining nonjudgmental about physical processes that have yet to be determined.
Compare blue jets.