Sprites are an exotic form of electricity that leap up from storm clouds instead of down like ordinary lightning. Although sprites have been reported for at least a century, many scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were accidentally photographed by researchers from the University of Minnesota and confirmed by video cameras onboard the space shuttle.
Smith has been chasing and photographing sprites for years in the stormy Great Plains around Oklahoma and Kansas. "This is the first time I have seen them with my unaided eyes," he says. "I believe that these were unusually bright." Here are two examples of clusters he caught simultaneously with his eyes and camera.
The underlying physics of sprites is still not fully understood. Some models hold that cosmic rays help them get started by creating conductive paths in the atmosphere. If cosmic rays do indeed spark sprites, now is a good time to look for them because cosmic rays are nearing a Space Age high.
More examples of naked-eye sprites may be found on Smith's Facebook page.