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The most common kind of lightning observed from earth discharges from cloud to cloud or from clouds toward the ground. The more elusive forms, called sprites, take place high above thunderstorm clouds and are visible as streaks of red. Even rarer are those that take place between clouds and the ionosphere where the electric potential is hundreds of kilovolts higher than earth's surface. They are called gigantic jets and they are extremely powerful. While a typical lightning strike may travel less than ten kilometers, gigantic jets have been observed to shoot vertically up for more than 70 km.

Along with sprites and blue jets, gigantic jets belong to a class of exotic forms of upper-atmosphere lightning phenomenon known as “transient luminous event” (TLE), so called because they lack several characteristics of the more familiar tropospheric lightning.

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Photograph of a gigantic jet, captured in China on August 13, 2016. This image might be the best image ever captured of this unusual phenomenon. Photo credit: Phebe Pan

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© Amusing Planet, 2016.


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