PHOTOS: Summer Offers Prime Viewing for Two Sky-Gazing Wonders

By Kristen Rodman, Staff Writer
June 28, 2014; 4:45 AM ET
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(Flickr/Timo Newton-Syms)

While the summer season ushers in higher temperatures and sunshine, it also brings forth the best chance to view some of Earth's natural, stratospheric wonders.

With increased thunderstorm activity during the summer months, upside-down bolts of lightning can occur above thunderstorms, creating colorful flashes of red lights known as sprites.

Sprites are short-lived red flashes that occur approximately 80 km, or 50 miles, up in the atmosphere, according to NASA.

With a jellyfish-like appearance, these lightning strokes are triggered by powerful positive cloud to ground lightning that lowers huge amounts of electrical charge to the Earth and increase the electric field in the middle of the atmosphere.

Summer's Atmospheric Wonders - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

These upside-down bolts shoot straight up from the stratosphere and can reach as far as 100 km, into the ionosphere, or the upper region of the atmosphere. Their length is also massive, as they can span up to nearly 45 miles.

However, sprites last only one-one thousandth of a second, so they happen too quickly to be followed by the naked eye and as a result, we perceive the bolts as red lights.

Unlike sprites, a different, rare stratospheric phenomena occurs most often during the summer, but this marvel can be viewed easily from the ground.

Flashing Red Lights: Sprites
AccuWeather Astronomy Blog
PHOTOS: Rare Night-Shining Clouds Are Becoming More Common

Because the upper atmosphere is the coldest during the summer, sometimes wavy, thin and blue-white colored clouds, known as noctilucent clouds, shine at twilight near the polar latitudes.

These dream-like clouds form at altitudes approximately 80 to 90 km above the Earth's surface but can still be seen by the human eye.

With their feathery appearance, these clouds are high enough in the atmosphere that they can reflect the sunlight long after dark, giving them an illusory look to viewers.

The best time to view these nighttime sensations is after sunset but before dark, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell.

Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at or follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.


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