UFO-like sprite seen on the Darling Downs
A TOOWOOMBA storm chaser has photographed a rare meteorological phenomenon in the skies over the Darling Downs.
Unless you're a weather forecaster, you've probably never heard of a sprite before.
Grant Rolph was shooting a large storm in Texas from halfway between Millmerran and Inglewood when he spotted the rare occurrence.
Sprites are large electrical discharges that take place high above thunderstorm clouds.
They include a varied range of visual shapes flickering in the night sky and are caused by the discharges of positive lightning between an underlying thundercloud and the ground.
Sprites appear as luminous reddish-orange flashes and often occur in clusters about 50km to 90km above the Earth's surface.
A paper on the discovery of red sprites states that when were first seen they were believed to be UFOs.
Mr Ralph said it was his first photo of a sprite and that he'd never seen one before.
He said photographing the sprite was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
A Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said they were extremely rare and normally photographed from high altitudes.
Sporadic visual sightings of the sprites go back at least to 1886 when they were first accidentally photographed.
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They have since been captured in video recordings thousands of times.
Sprites are sometimes inaccurately called upper-atmospheric lightning, but are actually cold plasma phenomena that lack the hot channel temperatures of tropospheric lightning.
They are more related to fluorescent tube discharges than to lightning strikes.