Sprites are spectacular optical emissions in the mesosphere induced by transient lightning electric fields above thunderstorms. Although the streamer nature of sprites has been generally accepted, how these filamentary plasmas are initiated remains a subject of active research. Here we present observational and modelling results showing solid evidence of pre-existing plasma irregularities in association with streamer initiation in the D-region ionosphere. The video observations show that before streamer initiation, kilometre-scale spatial structures descend rapidly with the overall diffuse emissions of the sprite halo, but slow down and stop to form the stationary glow in the vicinity of the streamer onset, from where streamers suddenly emerge. The modelling results reproduce the sub-millisecond halo dynamics and demonstrate that the descending halo structures are optical manifestations of the pre-existing plasma irregularities, which might have been produced by thunderstorm or meteor effects on the D-region ionosphere.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Chemistry
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Physics and Astronomy