View Full Version : Colored Lights in the Sky

2012-Jun-29, 12:34 PM
Huge electrical storm last night in my neck of the woods. Wind was furious, hailed for 15-20 minutes, neighbors lost a couple of trees (no damage at my place), and non-stop lightning for almost an hour. And I do mean non-stop. The largest flashes, coming every 10-15 seconds, made the backyard look like it was high noon and it was hard not to look away. It was probably the brightest, whitest lightning I have ever seen.

The hail is what woke me up (not an easy thing to do), and my 9-year old came over to make sure that I didn't get back to sleep (must have been worried about me). We were watching the storm out the big picture window in the bedroom, when suddenly the sky lit up with a big, bright blue flash. We looked at each other to make sure we had both seen the same thing, and then a few seconds later there was a smaller bright pink flash followed by another huge blue flash that lit up the whole sky. Never saw any streaks of lightning from our vantage point, it was all reflected off the clouds.

I had never seen colored lightning before, it's always looked white with maybe a tinge of pale blue, but this stuff was a strong, solid color, very impressive. I don't know how common colored lightning is, but I've never seen anything like it.

2012-Jun-29, 01:02 PM
Could it have been a transformer blowing? Those are silly stupid bright and as long as you don't have direct line of sight, can have colors.

2012-Jun-29, 01:22 PM
I don't think so, all of our utilities are underground around here, and the closest substation is 8 miles away. A small transfer box could have been hit, but that probably wouldn't have generated such a huge amount of light. Also there were no reported power outages last night.

In a former life (~15 years ago), transformers were my life, and I got to spend some time inside a large transformer (3+ tons) testing lab. They build the transformer prototype, put it in the middle of a big concrete room and arc electricity to the unit to see how it fails and if it keeps its cooling oil contained or explodes like a watermelon with an M-80 inside it (seen that a couple of times, too). The room was filled with equipment that looked like this (http://product-image.tradeindia.com/00732182/b/1/500-KV-High-Voltage-Testing-Transformer.jpg) and had the vibe of an old black and white mad-scientist movie.

2012-Jun-29, 01:41 PM
I have witnessed colored lightning as well. Red and green to be exact. It was during a tornado - spewing storm in Omaha in the early 90's. It was dazzling and scary at the same time. Colored lightning IS a known effect. NOAA has some lightning FAQS and I'm sure there are others out there. I can't speak as to its rarity - but that storm in Omaha is the only time I've ever seen it in person.

2012-Jun-29, 03:27 PM
Lotus, did you see actual lightning streaks that were colored? I'm wondering if the lightning bolts themselves were colored, or if the light was refracted/reflected through the rain/clouds/hail/wind and turned color before it got to my eyeballs.

These are approximately the shades of pink (http://cdn3.staztic.com/screenshots/pink-lightning-storm-lwp-1-2.jpg) and blue (http://img.mota.ru/upload/wallpapers/source/2009/07/16/12/03/14799/sky_105.jpg) that we saw (not my pics, pulled them off the web for comparison - probably have been touched up by somebody).

Ara Pacis
2012-Jun-29, 04:20 PM
Cool. I don't recall seeing colored lightning. I know that there are high altitude discharges that have colors: red/blue sprites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprite_%28lightning%29) and blue jets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upper-atmospheric_lightning#Blue_jets). Perhaps it was colored due to dust, if it's been as dry there as it has been here, the initial storm winds might have pushed or pulled some surface dust before the rain and that might have caused a filter effect, but I'm guessing.

The other possibility is that it was biological optical effect, like a retinal after image. Or how looking at one color for a long time causes everything else to look like the complementary color when you look at away. Did you have the lights on in the house and/or do you have colored walls?

2012-Jun-29, 08:49 PM
I like the thought of dust particles in the air. Yes, it had been dry and hot for 4-5 days. I will have to do a little more research tonight about colored lightning and the common causes.

Walls of the room are a light peach, carpet is white(-ish). Lights were off, room was completely dark.

Ara Pacis
2012-Jun-30, 01:46 AM
I don't know the layout of your room, but if light came in from another window reflected off of the walls and you saw the reflection of the illuminated walls the peach color might have created the pink component to the second flash you mentioned. Or not. Just a thought.

2012-Jun-30, 06:01 PM
Lightning being pink or orange is fairly common, I think; if you ionize or excite nitrogen and cause it to recombine (like in a gas discharge lamp or lightning strike) you get a pink glow, while oxygen is bluish. Since the flash of the strike is almost entirely caused by this and the thermal emission from the now very hot air, I'd expect all lightning strikes to be colored to an extent.

2012-Jun-30, 07:53 PM
Here is what NOAA has to say about it (http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/primer/lightning/ltg_climatology.html#)

Lightning can appear to be many different colors depending on what the light travels through to get to your eyes. In snowstorms, where is somewhat rare, pink and green are often described as colors of lightning. Haze, dust, moisture, raindrops and any other particles in the atmosphere will affect the color by absorbing or diffracting a portion of the white light of lightning.

2012-Jul-03, 02:07 PM
I don't know the layout of your room, but if light came in from another window reflected off of the walls and you saw the reflection of the illuminated walls the peach color might have created the pink component to the second flash you mentioned. Or not. Just a thought.

The color was entirely from the outside, meaning that the inside of the room didn't appear to light up, but the color of the sky outside was pink and then blue (big picture window, ~10' tall and 6' wide, perfect for watching storms, snowfall, birds' nests, and seeing what kind of trouble the kids are cooking up in the back yard).

The idea of arcing power lines (http://stormhighway.com/powerarc.shtml) (similar to what Tog suggested) is starting to grow on me. All the pictures and descriptions that I've seen of colored lightning seems to trend toward the red and sometimes green, but not further down the spectrum. Arcing produces violet and blue, and even though we don't have above-ground lines near my house, this type of light can be pretty intense.