Skip navigation
D. The Interesting Phenomena that Occur Above Thunderstorms

Narrator: This is Science Today. The next time you get caught in a thunderstorm, consider all of the interesting phenomena that occur in the atmosphere just above it. David Smith, an assistant professor of physics at the University of California , Santa Cruz , describes some of the phenomena, which is visible to the naked eye.

Smith: They're called things like sprites and blue jets and elves. They have these very whimsical names and the history of it is that they were observed fairly often by pilots over the last century but pilots don't like to talk about seeing funny, flashing lights in the sky! It only got picked up by scientists who started observing these phenomena formally about fifteen years ago.

Narrator: Around the same time, scientists also discovered what are called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.

Smith: Because of that, people thought it must be related you get a sprite, which looks like this gigantic red octopus that suddenly appears above the thunder cloud, for example. And that's one of the things that we're trying to do in the future is to compare observations of all these different phenomenons to see if they're related.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.