Colorful ‘gigantic jets’ lightning captured by observatory on Mauna Kea

Photo: Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF

An amazing and rare sight visible from the top of Mauna Kea was captured on camera this week.

Some might say it looks like something out of a science-fiction movie.

On July 23, Gemini North cloud cameras captured footage of gigantic jets, or upper-atmospheric lightning that occurs well above the altitudes of normal lightning and storm clouds.

It occurred as remnants of Fernanda passed to the north of the islands.

“Occasionally the electric energy goes up instead of down, and it energizes the gas in the atmosphere which causes it to glow,” explained Peter Michaud, Gemini Observatory public information and outreach manager. “These things go way, way into the atmosphere and because the air is so much thinner, the electrical properties are so much different. It doesn’t look like the lightning we see down below.”

According to Michaud, because the lightning is so fleeting, the phenomenon was thought to be a myth until 1989, when it was actually photographed.

For a visual, watch the video closely when the time stamp reaches 00:43.

(Video provided by Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF)

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