What are Red Sprites?

Image Credit: Red Sprite Painting by Peter McLeish - Sprite Forming #41


Wednesday, 24 October, 2018 - 06:30


Physics Theatre, Old Main Building, Kensington Campus


Faculty of Science

Type of event: 


Audience / Guests: 

Public / All



Discover the art and science behind the atmospheric phenomena of red sprites!
The Australian Centre for Astrobiology, School of Physics, and the School Biological Earth & Environmental Sciences present:

An Art and Science collaboration on Red Sprites
by Peter McLeish

6.30pm - Refreshments served from 6.00pm

Peter will introduce and show short films ‘At the Edge of Space’ and 'Lightnight's Angels' (descriptions below), and some excerpts from ‘The Hundred Year Hunt for Red Sprites' to enlighten us on these strange phenomena in the sky.

At the Edge of Space (53 minutes)
Between the blue sky above and the infinite blackness beyond lies a frontier that scientists have only just begun to investigate. In 'At the Edge of Space', NOVA takes viewers on a spectacular exploration of the Earth-space boundary that's home to some of nature's most puzzling and alluring phenomena: the shimmering aurora, streaking meteors, and fleeting flashes that shoot upwards from thunderclouds, known as sprites. Only discovered in 1989, sprites have eluded capture because they exist for a mere split-second—40-times faster than an eye blink. NOVA rides with scientists in a high-flying weather observation plane on a hunt for sprites, finally snaring them in 3D video and gaining vital clues to unraveling their mystery. Combining advanced video technology with stunning footage shot from the International Space Station, 'At the Edge of Space' probes the boundary zone and offers an entirely new perspective on our home planet. This film features NASA Space Shuttle Columbia's MEIDEX mission.

Lightning`s Angels (6 minutes)
My interpretation of Red sprites as art are presented in the form of a 2002 video titled "Lightning's Angels". This video was presented at many major International art & science symposiums, conferences, festivals and events all around the world. Lightning's Angels is a six minute video that combines digitally enhanced oil paintings of a Red sprite, in various states of transformation, accompanied by the song MISERERE from the CD STATE OF GRACE by Paul Schwartz featuring the Joyful Company of Singers. The images displayed in my video are of a Red sprite as seen from up above or from a high altitude aircraft and/or Space Shuttle. This video was created with the cooperation & assistance from American scientist Dr. Walter A. Lyons: FMA Research Inc.- Sky-Fire Productions (Colorado, United States) & scientist Dr. Colin Price from the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science, Tel Aviv University (Tel Aviv, Israel)/NASA Space Shuttle Columbia's MEIDEX mission.

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Peter McLeish is a Canadian born painter, multi-media artist and filmmaker with a Bachelors and Masters degree of Fine Arts. However, his initial education was in the sciences -specialising in advanced mathematics & physics.
Since 2001, Peter has been collaborating with American scientist Dr. Walter A. Lyons on multi-media projects based on an upper atmospheric optical phenomenon (associated with thunderstorms) named Red Sprites. This collaboration eventually led to Walter A. Lyons receiving a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for the creation of the DVD titled The Hundred Year Hunt for Red Sprites and interactive website.