Background information on sprites

First, check out Dr. Morss's Home Page!

This section will attempt to summarize the current hypotheses regarding sprites and blue jets. Since most work has been done on sprites, the majority of this presentation is focused on those phenomena.

The entire consideration of sprites and blue jets requires us to take a step back. Looking at the above figure, consider the overall charge distribution associated with the cloud/atmosphere complex. The charges are first noticed in the ionosphere, where a variety of ions/elctrons ("Beta Particles) are available in abundance. Next, the top of the thunderstorm possesses an overall positive charge, while the lower portion of the cloud (around 6 km) has a strong NEGATIVE charge. Below the 0 deg C isotherm, we will observe a small concentration of positive charge, and the earth's surface will also posess a net positive charge. This starting point is important, since it allows us to visually grasp the initial careful balance of charges throughout the vertical. A KEY ASSUMPTION in this argument is that the entire distribution of charges maintains an overall balance, preventing a flow of charge in any direction.

Now, let us suppose that a discharge takes place between the negatively charged region at 6 km to the ground. Consider, then, that the aforementioned balance of charge has been violated, thus allowing for a possible discharge to take place between the positively charged top of the cloud and the ionosphere. It would be reasonable to argue that a discharge would take place in this manner, since the electrical potential difference between cloud/ionosphere area would be the same, while the potential difference between the cloud top and the lower part of the cloud would be significantly deceased. This, then, is a possible scenario that we might use to explain the appearance of sprites/blue jets. 

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