A sensitive video camera on a summit of the Vosges mountains in France captured these surprising fireworks above a distant horizon on June 26, 2020. Generated over intense thunderstorms, this one about 260 kilometers (160 miles) away, the brief and mysterious flashes have come to be known as red sprites.
The transient luminous events are caused by electrical breakdowns at altitudes of 50 to 100 kilometers (30 to 60 miles). That puts them in the mesosphere, the coldest layer of planet Earth’s atmosphere. The glow beneath the sprites is from more familiar lighting though, below the storm clouds.
But on the right, the video frames have captured another summertime apparition from the mesosphere. The silvery veins of light are polar mesospheric clouds. Also known as noctilucent or night shining clouds, the icy clouds still reflect the sunlight when the Sun is below the horizon.