• The Dynamics And Morphology Of Sprites

      Moudry, Dana; Sentman, Dave (2003)
      In 1999 the University of Alaska Fairbanks fielded a 1000 fields-per-second intensified CCD camera to study sprites and associated upper atmospheric phenomena occurring above active thunderstorms as part of the NASA Sprites99 campaign. The exceptional clarity and definition obtained by this camera the night of August 18, 1999, provides the most detailed image record of these phenomena that has been obtained to date. The result of a frame-by-frame analysis of the data permits an orderly classification of upper atmospheric optical phenomena, and is the subject matter of this thesis. The images show that both elves and halos, which are diffuse emissions preceding sprites, are largely spatially unstructured. Observations of sprites initiating outside of main parts of halos, and without a halo, suggest sprites are initiated primarily from locations of atmospheric composition and density inhomogeneities. All sprites appear to start as tendrils descending from approximately 75 km altitude, and may form other dynamic or stationary features. Dynamic features include downward developing tendrils and upward developing branches. Stationary features include beads, columns, and diffuse "puffs," all of which have durations greater than 1 ms. Stationary sprite features are responsible for a significant fraction of the total optical emissions of sprites. Velocities of sprite tendrils were measured. After initial speeds of 106--107 m/s, sprite tendrils may slow to 105 m/s. Similarly, on some occasions the dim optical emission left behind by the descending tendrils may expand horizontally, with speeds on the order of 105 m/s. The volume excited by the sprite tendrils may rebrighten after 30--100 ms in the form of one of three different sprite after effects collectively termed "crawlers." A "smooth crawler" consists of several beads moving upward (~105 m/s) without a large vertical extent, with "smooth" dynamics at 1 ms timescale. "Embers" are bead-like forms which send a downward-propagating luminous structure towards the cloudtop at speeds of 106 m/s, and have irregular dynamics at 1 ms timescales. In TV-rate observations, the downward-propagating structure of an ember is averaged out and appears as a vertically-extended ribbon above the clouds. The third kind of crawler, so-called "palm tree," appears similar to an ember at TV-rates, but with a wider crown at top.