TLE…transient luminous event captured on video from a thunderstorm

Guest essay by Mike Alger, Chief Meteorologist,KTVN-TV,Reno, NV
Here’s something you don’t see every day. Flying a mission for the Air Force, Capt. Ryan McGuire started rolling some video (I believe with an iPhone through night vision goggles) of a very active thunderstorm cell somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Hoping to just catch some of the regular lightning (which is seen in abundance), he caught a very rare instance of a “Gigantic Jet.” A Gigantic Jet is a type of upper atmospheric lightning (also called a TLE…transient luminous event) which discharges from the tops of very strong thunderstorms from the stratosphere all the way into the ionosphere. Gigantic Jets can be over 40 miles in length.

Watch the top right left of the video to see the jet:

Capt. McGuire shared the video with fellow Capt. Clark Beesemyer. Curious as to what the upward shooting streak was, Capt. Beesemyer sent the video to my co-anchor Arianna Bennett, and asked her to show it to her station’s meteorologist (yours truly.) I was thrilled to get such a rare glimpse of an incredibly cool phenomenon.


43 thoughts on “TLE…transient luminous event captured on video from a thunderstorm

  1. These jets were regularly pooh-poohed by establishment scientists as anecdotal (reported by pilots) because they had no theory to account for them. Only when photos captured them were they acknowledged.

    • Most Scientists are just super memories. The actual program that runs their thinking is very basic. (Forgive the pun.)

    • Another term for that particular T.L.E. is “Sprite”
      There are also other types – e.g. – “Elves” or singularly Elf.

      • Actually, a sprite is another type of TLE. They occur far above the tops of the thunderstorms, but don’t originate from the cloud tops themselves. Gigantic Jets (along with blue jets and other types of jets) originate from the cloud top. That’s what this example does.

  2. I am not sure how rare these occurrences are. I am sure that is what my mother used to call that “sheet lightning”

    • No, I think sheet lightening is just a broad flash of lighting up the sky from distant lightening which is too far away to see its individual paths.

    • Sheet lightening is cloud to cloud. This jet is invisible from the ground and is cloud to space.

  3. It’s AME (atmospheric mass ejection) from our electrically active “earth-spots” (otherwise known as thunderstorms).

    • Hey, I like that, Phil B. Much better than TLE.
      A Transient Luminous Event could be anything: perhaps the rare time the light bulb goes on over my head; maybe when I briefly turn on the porch light at night to let the dogs out; how about that TLE when you open the refrigerator door. Your AME is much more descriptive.

  4. However, due to global warming, we are now going to see more of them, with greater intensity.
    Or is it fewer of them, with lesser intensity.
    No; they’re going to cause the oceans to rise.
    My God! Think of the children!

  5. I have carried out night flights across the Indian Ocean and the lightning is intense and the Cb very dangerous to fly into. These Cb can build to over 65000ft there is so much energy in them.

    • My dad worked on RAF met research flights looking to study the weather between Ceylon and Singapore sometime between 1946 and 1949, when they were looking to open up a direct trans-ocean air route.
      They couldn’t fly over northern Sumatra, so had to fly all the way up the Malacca Strait, before turning west to Ceylon. He told me that the thunderstorms just rolled down off Malaysia and Sumatra at night, and the flights were terrifying until they were well past Kuala Lumpur and further from land.
      I’ll have to ask him if he ever saw a sprite.

  6. Normally called a Sprite. And when viewed in colour, they are normally reddish.
    I like the slow-mo action of its genesis and termination. It is obviously not a simple ionospheric equivalent of a lightning strike.

    • Actually, a sprite is another type of TLE. They occur far above the tops of the thunderstorms, but don’t originate from the cloud tops themselves. Gigantic Jets (along with blue jets and other types of jets) originate from the cloud top. That’s what this example does.

  7. If a sprite involve a fast upward movement of mass (air) — as implied by a comment above and the video — does anyone have an estimate of how much mass? It could be one heck of a convection current in that case (with a significant venting of heat from the earth to space).
    Even without much mass, the electrical energy appears to be going somewhere, “out of this world”. How much energy is in one of these sprites?

    • Again, it’s not a sprite (see above), but in answer to your question, the only relationship to upward movement of air is how said upward movement of air creates the electrical potential, which is the root cause of these events. The Jet shooting upward (a discharge of electrical current) isn’t a physical transport of mass upward any more than a regular lightning bolt is a physical transport of mass between cloud and ground.

  8. A credible pilot acquaintance of mine says he has seen many red ones while flying airliners high.
    I presume they’d be seen over the mid-Atlantic as well, where thunderstoms go high.

  9. These events are not rare, have been captured from the space station and shuttle missions and are well documented. I am surprised by the lack of credible comments on this thread, considering the weight I place on comments on the rest of the threads. It is a bit like being disappointed by media reports on subjects that I have intrinsic knowledge of!

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