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Mon, 19 Aug 2019
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Strange Skies


Large numbers of red sprites in the skies over Europe this summer

Red sprites above a mesoscale convective system in Hungary, as seen from western Slovenia. July 31, 2019.
© : Marko Korošec / Weather-Photos.net
Red sprites above a mesoscale convective system in Hungary, as seen from western Slovenia. July 31, 2019.
Have you noticed the huge number of reported red sprites in the skies over Europe lately? What are they? How are they detected? Is this normal?

Thunderstorms are electrically charged weather systems, and we are quite used to typical electrical discharges from storms - lightning. Lightning that we are most familiar with goes from the cloud to the ground, called cloud-to-ground lightning. However, thunderstorms discharge also upwards, above the storm. This is not typical lightning, but phenomena sometimes called upper atmosphere lightning and more appropriately transient luminous events.

There is an entire zoo of transient luminous events caused by electrical discharges from thunderstorms. Of these, red sprites are by far the most common. Red sprites happen when the parent thunderstorm unleashes a strong positive lightning bolt. Positive lightning is very powerful, typically 2x to 10x more powerful than typical negative lightning. It is also rare, with less than 5% of all lightning bolts being positive.

Comment: See also the following reports of this increasingly frequent phenomenon (and other unusual atmospheric events) from the last few years:


Plasma event? Bizarre angel-like atmospheric phenomenon captured over Brazil

Angel-like plasma event over Brazil
© YouTube / Disclose Screen 'The Grimreefar'
The massive shining figure was recorded soaring in a cloudy sky, changing direction but retaining its bizarre shape. It is unclear whether the filmed object is an energy source or a remarkable light refraction.

A strange and unique atmospheric phenomenon was caught on camera in Brazil. A video uploaded by a UFO hunter who goes under the name of Disclose Screen "the Greemreefar" shows a T-shaped shining object in the cloudy sky, which roughly resembles an angel in a long robe.
"It looks like light refraction but then again it looks like some type of energy source," the cameraman says on the video. "It's even got the harmonious appearance of an angel."
The T-shaped object remains in motion for a period of time, moving from one cloud to another, changing angle and direction.

Comment: A similar event was captured over Missouri in April last year: Plasma event? 'Crazy sky phenomena' filmed in Raytown, Missouri

In recent times sightings of STEVE and other atmospheric events appear to be increasing. See also: Electric universe theory provides rational, intelligible explanations for such atmospheric phenomena as ball lightning, plasma discharges, noctilucent clouds, lightning, hurricanes and tornadoes. For more information on this and much more read, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.


Spectacular moon halo seen over Magellan telescope in Las Campanas, Chile

Moon halo over Chile
© Yuri Beletsky
This sort of halo is called a 22 degree halo by skywatchers. You can see them around both the sun and moon. They're caused by ice crystals in the air. They bear that name because the radius of the ring is always approximately 22 degrees.

Yuri Beletsky works for the Carnegie Observatories, based at Las Campanas in northern Chile, home to the twin Magellan telescopes, and site of the future Giant Magellan Telescope. Yuri is a fantastic nature photographer; you can follow his Nightscapes on Facebook. He posted this image on Facebook on August 10, 2019, and wrote:
Even when the weather is bad, we astronomers, never lose hope. Cloudy weather, it's the worst nightmare for us. But at the same time the nature can surprise us with stunning views during those nights. Here is an amazing 22 degree halo around the moon just above the Magellan telescope :) The brightest 'star' on the left is the planet Jupiter. Besides, you can see some stars through the clouds. I hope you'll enjoy the view.


Fata Morgana? 'Ghost City' mirage filmed over lake in China

hongze china fata morgana
© Photo: YouTube/People's Daily, China
The video elicited a mixed reaction from social media users, with people wondering whether it was some kind of elaborate optical illusion or merely a hoax.

A strange sight was recently observed near Hongze Lake in China when a whole row of buildings was seen seemingly hovering over the water's surface on the horizon. The sighting was captured on camera by onlookers.

A video subsequently uploaded on YouTube by the People's Daily channel shows what appears to be "a mirage of traditional Chinese buildings," according to the description, along with a working wind turbine.

Comment: This isn't the first suspected instance of Fata Morgana in China:


Incredibly rare triple rainbow photographed in Scottish Highlands

Triple rainbow
The rainbow was photographed at Loch Lochy in the Highlands
Meteorologists have been surprised by the sighting of a double rainbow with an "incredibly rare" third rainbow inside the main bow.

The weather phenomenon was photographed on Wednesday night at Loch Lochy near Clunes in the Highlands.

Unusually, the colours of the third rainbow are in the same order as the main one it was attached to.

BBC Weather presenter Simon King said: "This has scratched a few heads as this is something incredibly rare."

The meteorologist said the rainbow had the characteristics of both of what are known as a twinned rainbow and supernumerary rainbow.

Supernumerary bows are formed by small, similar-sized raindrops which then create ripple-like rainbows.

Comment: Our changing atmosphere: Stunning iridescent cloud over Mexico, complex solar halo over Russia and a triple rainbow over Norway

Bizarro Earth

Rare pillars of light appear above Philippine skies

"Pillars of light" appeared again in the province of Sulu this year, and were captured in several photos shared by netizens.

According to a certain Amarkhan Jidara, who shared several photos of the spectacular dance of lights in the night sky, the latest celestial show they witnessed was last Sunday, June 30, 2019 at 7 p.m.
Light Pillars
© Photos courtesy of Amarkhan Jidara


Upside down rainbow spotted in skies of southern Wales

Circumzenithal arc over Wales
© Rob Dalling
An unusual upside down rainbow was spotted over Swansea on Thursday night.

The multi-coloured arc left residents across the city confused as it appeared in the shape of a 'U' rather than, well a rainbow shape!

People reported seeing it from Birchgrove, Fforestfach, Sketty, Clydach and even Rotherslade.

How did it occur?

According to the Met Office , the upside down rainbow is actually a circumzenithal arc.

The upside down rainbows appear when the sunlight refracts through ice crystals in cirrus clouds.

This type of rainbow is quite common but we usually can't see them because of the clouds underneath.


Cosmic fireworks Eta Carinae still exploding after nearly 200 years

Eta Carinae
© NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona, Tucson), and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute, New York)
If you were to have looked up at the sky 181 years ago you'd have noticed one seemingly new and incredibly bright star burning up the heavens during an event known as The Great Eruption of 1838. The Great Eruption occurred in the constellation Carina when Eta Carinae, a two-star system, formed a nebula so massive that, for a time, it was bright enough for Mariners to navigate by.

Although the Great Eruption has long since faded from the view of the naked human eye, its tumultuous explosion is still going on and is quite visible to the Hubble telescope, which recently returned a stunning image of the moribund binary system.


Earth hit by highest energy photons ever recorded from the Crab Nebula

Crab Nebula
The Tibetan Plateau is a vast elevated plain almost five kilometers above sea level, sometimes called the Roof of the World. It is bordered to the south by the world's highest mountain range and to the north by desert lands. It is one of the most isolated places on Earth.

But the extreme altitude makes it a useful place for scientists. In 1990, they built an observatory here to study the showers of subatomic particles that rain down from the upper atmosphere whenever it is hit by a high-energy cosmic ray. This work is better done at high altitude because there is less atmosphere to absorb the particles.

Since then, the so-called Tibet Air Shower Array has recorded vast numbers of high-energy cosmic rays, particles accelerated to huge energies by astrophysical phenomena such as supernovas, active galactic nuclei, and mysterious as-yet-unidentified sources.

But the array also picks up air showers caused by a different source-high-energy photons. These mysterious photons are also created by astrophysical phenomena such as the interaction between high-energy particles and the cosmic microwave background. Consequently, they can provide a unique insight into these processes and the environments in which they occur.


The cosmic 'Cow' may be supernova

Cow Supernova
© R. Margutti/W. M. Keck Observatory
HOLY COW - The cosmic oddity called the Cow may be a supernova that exploded in a dense environment. This image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey shows the Cow’s host galaxy 200 million light-years away. The Cow itself is a bright spot at about 4 o’clock in the galaxy’s disk.
The cosmic oddity known as the Cow may have been a dying star that shed its skin like a snake before it exploded.

Newly released observations support the idea that the burst occurred in a dense environment with strong magnetic fields, astronomer Kuiyun Huang and colleagues report in The Astrophysical Journal Letters June 12.

These new measurements "for the mysterious transient ... provide one of the strong hints of its nature," says Huang, of the Chung Yuan Christian University in Taoyuan City, Taiwan.

Since the Cow appeared in June 2018 as a brief burst of light in a galaxy about 200 million light-years away, astronomers haven't been sure what to think of it. The initial glow flared more quickly and seemed 10 times brighter than an ordinary supernova, the violent explosion that marks the death of a massive star (SN: 2/18/17, p. 20).

Follow-up observations of the Cow - which got its nickname from the randomly assigned name "AT2018cow" - left two main theories for what it could be: a strange sort of supernova, or an exotic star being shredded by a black hole (SN: 2/2/19, p. 13). But neither theory alone could explain all the Cow's weird features.