The dancing Sprites over the reservoir

The Red Sprites over the Seč reservoir

The Red Sprites over the Seč reservoir

As the hot and dry summertime peaks in the center of Europe, this season finally brings some strong MCS storms visible far from the Seč reservoir. And this night, exactly on the early morning of July 6th, 2015, finally came my opportunity to capture some Red Sprites just by the DSLR camera. I was waiting almost 3 hours until I finally succeeded. This one at 00:17:01 UTC (June 6th) was visible even by naked eyes even in strong moonlight! Total estimated magnitude is about -3. Used Canon 6D IR Baader Mod, Samyang 24 mm, f2.0, ISO 3200, 3 seconds exposure, tripod.

Dancing sprites above the cloudtops

Dancing sprites above the cloudtops

This success was not accidental. I was hoping in development of strong MCS storms, coming from the Germany, and waiting on the beach of the Seč reservoir with my camera. Knowing about big count of the CG+ flashes from the storm via datas of the Czech Hydrometeorological institute, I’ve just set up my camera to the direction of the sky with the highest potential of Red Sprites in the sky. Long and almost hopeless waiting and blind-capturing of the sky turned to the success when I finally captured this only one strong Red Sprite in the sky, close to the Acturus star of the Bootes constellation. For that long waiting, I was awarded by nature not only by the Sprite but also a meteor in the Big Dipper in the time of capturing! Thanks to the two-stationary observation of Martin Popek (more follows) I was able to calculate the distance of the Sprite as 221 km. Used Canon 6D IR Baader Mod, Samyang 24 mm, f2.0, ISO 3200, 6×3 s panorama.

Actually, this is not the first time I captured the Sprites by DSLR camea. The first time I had amazing conditions at ESO sitesLa Silla observatory and the Paranal observatory as well. The Sprites were produced by strong MCS storms above the Argentina and Brazil as the midsummer time peaked on the southern hemisphere. I was absolutely shocked that the extremely short-time phenomenon is possible to capture on DSLR, so I started to seek for the conditions in the Czech Republic too.

The capturing of the Red Sprites is not that easy and this is also the main reason why we don’t know about it too much. As in the world are prepared and built new cameras for capturing the TLE phenomena, a small revolution in this area came occasionally even from the Czech Republic. A young amateur observer Martin Popek from Nydek, Czech Republic was capturing meteors by high-frequency WATEC camera with 8mm/f1.3 lenses in May 2011 and on one of his observation the evaluating software UFO Capture detected something completely different than a meteor. It was beautifully structured Red Sprites from far storm passing above the center of the Czech Republic. From that time Popek observes the TLE phenomena every night of the TLE season (in the central Europe usually from May to September) and shows, that the phenomena are far from being such unique and rare. In next years he captured hundreds (!) of various TLE phenomena, mostly the mystic Red Sprites from far storms over Hungary, Austria, Slovakia or Poland. But also discovered a new species. His observations proved we just needed another attitude to capturing the extremely short flashes in the ionosphere and move on the science about TLE phenomena.

While Popek’s observations totally shocked by the frequency of the Red Sprites, his numerous records of the TLE phenomena were in low resolution and also effected by other limitations of the WATEC camera. So lot of other photographers became to be motivated by a thought to take a shot of the Red Sprites by DSLR cameras. This task is even more difficult, because although the Red Sprites are not invisible, the brightness of the sky foreground and the noise ratio in high ISO can be absolutely disturbing and, of course, the phenomenon is unpredictable. So even if they occasionally succeeded with sometimes really stunning images, the details of the Red Sprites had never been such satisfactory.

Coincidentally, something like a second revolution came again from the Czech Republic. On 6th August 2013 Czech photographer Pavel Štarha of the Faculty of Mathematics of the Brno University of Technology luckily captured bright Red Sprites above the Bohemia and except those data he also immediately prepared even the calibration images as the dark frames and the flat fields for the removing all the undesirable effects of the camera’s sensor and the lenses optical ills as well. His images had been then processed by reputable prof. Miloslav Druckmüller of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Brno University of Technology. Prof. Druckmüller is well known for his revolutionary mathematical methods of digital images post processing used mostly on solar corona during total solar eclipses . For this case he used his skills again to produce probably the most detailed images of the Red Sprites till that time in the world. The images are not only really detailed, but also present the Red Sprites in correct colors as the professor precisely set the white balance and color space of the data.