Rare atmospheric phenomenon in action captured by remote space observatory

A captivating image of red sprites in the skies above Chile’s Atacama Desert has been captured by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) near the La Silla Observatory. Red sprites are vivid red streaks in the sky resulting from large-scale electrical discharges that occur high above thunderstorm clouds. They are typically triggered by discharges of positive lightning between a thundercloud and the ground, appearing at altitudes of 50-90 km in Earth’s atmosphere.

For centuries, people have shared folktales about mysterious red lights in the sky, often disregarded by experts. Even esteemed pilots and scientists like CTR Wilson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, described these phenomena, but were ignored by the scientific community. However, in 1989, scientists from the University of Minnesota managed to capture pictures of red sprites, shifting the perception of these events. While red sprites have been photographed and filmed thousands of times, including by astronauts on the International Space Station, they still remain a relatively rare occurrence.

The recent image from ESO showcases the red sprites against the backdrop of the Atacama Desert, resembling a piece of art. The photograph, taken from the platform of ESO’s 3.6m telescope at La Silla, displays a green hue known as airglow in the background. ESO explains that during the day, sunlight removes electrons from nitrogen and oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, which recombine with atoms and molecules at night, causing them to emit light. Airglow is typically visible in very dark skies free from light pollution.

Due to its remote location, high altitude, and minimal light pollution, La Silla is an ideal spot for capturing these unique phenomena. The image serves as a reminder of the mesmerizing wonders present in the Earth’s skies, shedding light on these rare and mysterious occurrences.

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