Jason Ahrns has had a very unusual summer. For the last several weeks, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks grad student has been studying sprites – a rare form of red lightning that appears high above thunderclouds. And he's been doing it from a plane.
Red sprite lightning is both mysterious and intriguing: sprites occur only at high altitudes above thunderstorms, only last for a thousandth of a second, and emit light in the red portion of the visible spectrum. Therefore, studying sprites has been notoriously difficult for atmospheric scientists.