Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere

Victor P. Pasko, Mark A. Stanley, John D. Mathews, Umran S. Inan, Troy G. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


For over a century, numerous undocumented reports have appeared about unusual large-scale luminous phenomena above thunderclouds and, more than 80 years ago, it was suggested that an electrical discharge could bridge the gap between a thundercloud and the upper atmosphere. Since then, two classes of vertically extensive optical flashes above thunderclouds have been identified - sprites and blue jets. Sprites initiate near the base of the ionosphere, develop very rapidly downwards at speeds which can exceed 107 ms−1 (ref. 15), and assume many different geometrical forms. In contrast, blue jets develop upwards from cloud tops at speeds of the order of 105 ms−1 and are characterized by a blue conical shape. But no experimental data related to sprites or blue jets have been reported which conclusively indicate that they establish a direct path of electrical contact between a thundercloud and the lower ionosphere. Here we report a video recording of a blue jet propagating upwards from a thundercloud to an altitude of about 70 km, taken at the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico. Above an altitude of 42 km - normally the upper limit for blue jets and the lower terminal altitude for sprites - the flash exhibited some features normally observed in sprites. As we observed this phenomenon above a relatively small thunderstorm cell, we speculate that it may be common and therefore represent an unaccounted for component of the global electric circuit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-154
Number of pages3
Issue number6877
StatePublished - Mar 14 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Electrical discharge from a thundercloud top to the lower ionosphere'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this