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In the blink of an eye, an enormous bright red light flashes above a thundercloud, spreading energetic branches that extend five times taller than Mount Everest and look like jellyfish tendrils and angel’s wings.
These mysterious phenomena are known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), and are usually invisible to the naked eye because they happen on millisecond timescales, too fast to be seen. They occur between 50 to 100 kilometers above the ground, a long-ignored area of the atmosphere that is too high for aircraft but too low for satellites to investigate. There, the thin air interacts with strong electrical fields to ionize molecules and create arcing plasmas.