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enter image description here

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above x2: Photos by David Finlay, from here.

The BBC news article Rare 'sprites' photographed beside Southern Lights shows photographs by the Australian photographer David Finlay. They are remarkably clear and distinct, and set against a clear night sky filled with stars. (The two fuzzy blue blobs are the large and small Magellanic Clouds - dwarf galaxies in the local group.)

I had thought that sprites were challenging to photograph not only because they are dim and rare requiring a special low-light cooled-CCD camera and luck, but that one had to be almost directly above a thunderstorm. This is a view of an almost completely clear sky, from the ground with a normal camera.

Are the clouds and light in the distance at the bottom of the first image the source of these sprites? There is really that much difference in altitude between the sprite and the associated thunderstorm?

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According to this Wikipedia entry Sprites occur at altitudes between 50 and 90km while the thunderstorms that create them generally top out below 16km so there is a minimum of more than 30km of height difference between a storm and any sprites it may spawn. So yes, at the right angle, you should be able to get a photograph of a storm's sprites from the ground. Whether the storm we can see in the photo is in fact the source of those sprites I don't know, given the angles I think the part of the storm that created them is actually below the horizon.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh! I see, so one can be several hundred kilometers away in dark clear skies and look in the direction of a thunderstorm well over the horizon and invisible and yet have a good clear shot at any sprite activity associated with it; all you'd need is a good up-to-date weather map that included lightning strike frequency? Cool! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 18 '21 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering about exposure time though, In my latter source they say that sprites last up to "many tens of milliseconds". Let's say 0.1s. I'm not into photography, but is an exposure time of 0.1 seconds "a large amount of time" for this kind of low light photography? And even if it is not, it must have been insane luck to capture this. Regarding "How is this possible" - I'm rather wondering about the chances of capturing this than the clear sky. Sorry for making this chatty. I'd also very much like to see a profound answer to this. $\endgroup$
    – J. Fregin
    Nov 18 '21 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @J.Fregin that's a great question, so much so that I recommend you post it as a new question. You could do it here but the folks in Photography SE and add the Astrophotography tag may find it interesting and dig in as well. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 27 '21 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh photo.stackexchange.com/questions/126944/… $\endgroup$
    – J. Fregin
    Dec 9 '21 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @J.Fregin I just realized that I'd asked What kind of equipment or other technology is necessary to photograph "sprites" (the atmospheric phenomenon)? 2.5 years ago. To avoid anybody starting a vote to close as duplicate, can you double check that your question asks something different, then perhaps make a note of that in your question? Something like "Answers to (my old question) don't address X". $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:27

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