What Causes Red Lightning?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Apr 17, 2020 7:16:23 PM ET

Red lightning is created by the excitation of nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere. It is produced above the clouds during storms. The red lights produced also are known as sprites.

Lightning is produced when electrical fields build up in the clouds as liquid and ice particles collide. These electrical fields become larger and a spark occurs. This spark can occur between clouds, between clouds and air or between clouds and the ground. Lightning between clouds and the ground generally occurs in the darkest clouds. The darkest clouds are known as the updraft region.

A sprite occurs in the middle of the atmosphere. It is mostly red but there is a blue tinge in the bottom tendrils. Sprites occur very briefly and are barely visible to the human eye. They are often captured on night-vision cameras. Sprites can stretch vertically for up to 45 miles and can be up to 10 miles across. They often occur in clusters, which makes them appear larger. Sprites do not connect with the clouds below them. They start miles above the storm and extend both upward and downward. Some people see sprites as white or green, because of the human eye's inability to distinguish colors at low intensity, according to Sky Fire Productions.