Back in the 1980s, researchers were amazed when they discovered sprites – luminous red forms dancing on top of intense electrical storms, reaching their strangely-shaped tentacles up to the edge of space. Since then, sprites have been photographed by astronomers around the world. Now a new form of upper atmospheric lightning is being seen: the Gigantic Jet. They are related to sprites, but more powerful and easier to see with the naked eye… More than 20 were observed this year, all during tropical waves except for tropical storm Harvey, which was by far the most prolific producer of the jets. Here a short compilation of these impressive transient luminous event captured in 2017:

Gigantic Jets are rarer than sprites. While sprites were discovered in 1989 and have since been photographed by the thousands, it was not until 2001-2002 that Gigantic Jets were first recorded from Puerto Rico and Taiwan.

Before 2017, Gigantic Jet sightings numbered in the dozens. Lucena alone has added approximately 20 to that total in a single year. These jets came from 4 different storms. They were all tropical waves except for tropical storm Harvey, which was by far the most prolific producer of the jets.

Gigantic jet, Gigantic jet 2017 video, Gigantic jet compilation from 2017 video
Gigantic jet compilation from 2017. via Frankie Lucena

The most recent event in Lucena’s collection was on Sept 30, 2017 just 10 days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

Gigantic Jets and their cousins the sprites inhabit the upper atmosphere alongside auroras, meteors and noctilucent clouds. Some researchers believe they are linked to cosmic rays.

Gigantic jet, Gigantic jet 2017 video, Gigantic jet compilation from 2017 video
Gigantic jet formation. via Frankie Lucena

The link to cosmic rays is particularly interesting at this time. For the past two+ years, space weather balloons have observed a steady increase in deep space radiation penetrating our atmosphere. This increase is largely due to the decline in the solar cycle. Flagging solar wind pressure and weakening sunspot magnetic fields allow more cosmic rays into the inner solar system – a trend which is expected to continue for years to come.

These changes could add up to even more Gigantic Jets in the future. 

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1 COMMENT

  1. No, don’t think it’s anything to do with solar winds, especially at those latitudes. My sense is that it’s the atmosphere balancing itself electrically. There’s an incredible amount of discharge going on within and below those tropical storm clouds. That’s gotta leave something of an electrical vacuum, so I imagine these sprites and jets are just upper level electrons draining down to fill the voids, exciting atmospheric gasses just like the aurora does along the way.

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