Giant “plasma jet” detected near the Virgin Islands

Lightning on Earth is getting weirder and weirder. On the evening of September 20, Puerto Rican photographer Frankie Lucena pointed his Sony A7s camera at a coastal electrical storm. Here’s what he saw:

“This giant jet plasma phenomenon occurred over a very powerful thunderstorm near the Virgin Islands just before Tropical Storm Peter,” Lucena said. “I can’t believe I was able to capture such amazing detail.”

Indeed, this is one of the best photos ever taken of a giant jet pack. Sometimes called “Earth’s tallest lightning bolts,” because they reach the ionosphere at more than 50 miles, these giant jets were discovered near Taiwan and Puerto Rico in 2001-2002. Since then, only dozens of giant jets have been photographed. They seem to love thunderstorms over water and have been known to surprise passengers aboard commercial airplanes.

In 2017 and 2018, lightning researcher Oscar van der Velde of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia set up high-speed cameras on the north coast of Colombia as part of a special campaign to capture giant jets. In three months of observations, he managed to capture only 12. That’s how elusive they are.

Meanwhile, Lucena is still wondering what happened. “That’s the brightest giant jet I’ve ever seen. It was really amazing.”

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