A circular red halo of light recently appeared in the night sky above Italy, disappearing within milliseconds.
Photographer Valter Binotto was able to capture a shot of the luminous halo in the sky above the town of Possagno in northern Italy on March 27.
However, the ring was not actually located above the town. Instead, it was around 224 miles in diameter and blinked above central Italy and part of the Adriatic Sea.
The ring flash is known as an ELVE, which stands for “emission of light and very low-frequency perturbations due to electromagnetic pulse sources”.
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ELVEs are a rare type of perturbation resulting from intense thunderstorm electrification, and they are created when electromagnetic pulses given off by lightning hit Earth’s ionosphere.
Due to their short-lived nature, ELVEs are normally visible only to satellites orbiting Earth, and they were discovered in 1990 thanks to cameras onboard NASA’s space shuttles.
Binotto’s new image is likely the best-ever picture of an ELVE taken from the ground.
Binotto believes that the ELVE was produced by an EMP generated from a large thunderstorm near Ancona, a city around 174 miles southeast of Possagno.
Normally, lightning bolts do not emit EMPs because they do not carry enough current. But during this storm, an unusually powerful bolt, at least 10 times more powerful than regular lightning bolts, likely generated the electrical shockwave, which then hit the ionosphere.
When electrons from within the EMP hit the ionosphere, the charged particles excite nitrogen atoms which then give off the reddish glow.
Binotto has photographed hundreds of ELVEs and other types of transient luminous events (TLEs) since he began shooting them in 2019, and this is one of the biggest structures he has ever seen.
This is not the first time SPRITEs like this have been photographed from Earth.
In February 2021, a red sprite in Hawaii was photographed alongside blue jets, which are lightning bolts that shoot upward instead of downward. And in April 2013, red sprites were photographed above multiple bolts of lightning in Nebraska.