We are all familiar with spectacular bolts of lightning that come down toward us during thunderstorms - But those shooting up from the cloud ? Those are rare indeed and scientists have just released some rarely seen images of what they call 'gigantic jets'.
Gigantic jets were first discovered in 2001 and since then, only ten have been seen. While they are essentially the same as conventional lightning, instead of emerging from thunderclouds and going down, these find their way to the top of the clouds and then shoot up and keep going, until they are finally stopped by the ionsphere - the outermost layer of the Earth's atmosphere.
The latest sighting was caught on tape by professor Steve Cummer from Duke University in North Carolina, who had set up cameras to observe lightning associated with Tropical Storm, Cristobal in July, 2008. While they had expected to see some spectacular lightning, capturing a gigantic jet was a totally unexpected treat!
Lightning occurs when electric charge is built up in the clouds by the continuous motion of water and ice. Scientists are still not sure why it sometimes shoots up from the cloud instead of heading down. One plausible reason may be that high winds above the cloud cancel the effect of a charge that normally stops the lightning from going up - but nobody knows for sure.
Whatever the reason, they sure look amazing - Next time there is a thunderstorm in your area, don't forget to glance at the skies. You may be one of the lucky people to actually see a gigantic jet!
sources: livescience.com, telegraph.co.uk