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19 Aug, 2015 17:26

'Red Sprite’: ISS astronauts capture rare flash of light dancing atop thunderstorm (PHOTO)

'Red Sprite’: ISS astronauts capture rare flash of light dancing atop thunderstorm (PHOTO)

Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) were treated to a gorgeous sight last week, witnessing a 'red sprite' dancing atop a thunderstorm on Earth. A camera caught the crimson flash in action, documenting Mother Nature's amazing light show.

Red sprites are bright flashes that occur directly above thunderstorms, and are associated with powerful lightning. They can extend as high as 55 miles (90 kilometers) into the atmosphere, though the brightest region is usually around an altitude of 40-45 miles (65-75 kilometers).

Sprites typically appear in a shape resembling a red jellyfish with purplish tendrils. It receives its red color from nitrogen molecules in the air.

And this case was no exception. The photo, released by NASA, shows an impressive 'jellyfish' making an appearance over thunderstorms in Mexico on August 10. The moon, the green haze of airglow, orange city lights, and a wide splotch of lightning flashes can also be seen in the picture.

Though red sprites are very common – a thunderstorm produces a sprite once or twice a minute – they are extremely hard to photograph because they don't last very long (3-10 milliseconds at most). They're also very difficult to spot from the ground, since the thunderstorm itself is typically blocking the view.

The first time a red sprite was photographed was in 1989. Red sprites have been captured by the ISS in the past, though this photo is considered to be one of the best to date.