An enormous flash of lightning spotted over China is giving scientists a rare and unprecedented look at electrical activity in the atmosphere.
Spotted on Aug. 12, 2010 over eastern China, the jet--spanning from the top of a thunderstorm way up to the edge of the atmosphere more than 50 miles above the ground--researchers recently published their findings in the Chinese Science Bulletin.
At 35 degrees latitude, the jet is the farthest from the equator ever observed. Previous jets--also called upper-atmospheric lightning--were only confirmed as recently as 1989.
"This is the first report from mainland China," said lead researcher Jing Yang, an atmospheric scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
These giant upward lightnings take a number of forms, including orange flashes called sprites and blue jets, which take on a conical form. Scientists have also spotted "tree jets" and "carrot jets" forming other shapes.
Scientists believe these mysterious jets are meant to provide an electrical balance to thunderstorms by discharging the ionosphere, the part of the upper atmosphere filled with charged particles.