Nasa's Unexplained Files (2012) s03e05 Episode Script

Curse of the Full Moon

NASA's mission is to explore the unknown.
What we know about the universe is a tiny fraction of what's actually out there.
In the search for answers, it launches its scientists into space, its craft beyond the limits of the solar system.
We have no idea what's out there.
There might be dangers lurking in the darkness.
We run across more mysteries than discoveries.
We don't know what it's going to throw at us next.
The deadly Nazi secret that doomed the Hindenburg.
I know there's something more to this story than just the hydrogen exploded.
Mysterious scientific readings linked to the full moon.
Many experiments have been done to see if there is a link between the full moon and strange phenomena.
Scientists are doing real research and it's coming back with something strange.
And could planet earth have a secret twin? It'd be amazing if there were other people out there on another planet that were just hidden from view.
These are NASA's unexplained files.
A Soviet spacecraft comes dangerously close to a fatal collision.
The crew is in trouble, it's unable to dock with the space station and it's going down.
The re-entry goes very wrong.
They are about to enter a whole world of pain.
Drowning, freezing, asphyxiation, take your pick.
October 1976, Soyuz 23 is carrying cosmonauts Vyacheslav Zudov and Valery Rozhdestvensky to the orbiting Salyut 5, Russia's military outpost.
Soyuz 23 spacecraft is prepared to man this military equipment, mostly very powerful cameras used for military surveillance of strategically important objects.
The cosmonauts are spies working for almas, the Soviet Union's black ops program that monitors the U.
from space.
Bad weather puts them off course and 500 meters away from the Salyut 5 space station, they look like they're going to crash into the wrong side of it.
The Soyuz has a limited amount of fuel.
With just seconds until impact, zudov and rozhdestvensky have no option but to abort.
They are right outside the Salyut 5 space station, but if they try to dock again, they won't have enough fuel to get home.
You can't use all your fuel up.
You'll be stuck in orbit.
That's just a slow death.
Back at mission control, the flight directors realize that the only option left is to bring the guys home.
The crew prepares for an unscheduled re-entry.
Well, they think that's the worst part of the mission, but it turns out, it's only just beginning.
The cosmonauts plummet back into the atmosphere.
It's nighttime on earth, and weather conditions on the ground have worsened.
They are also way off course.
So the Soyuz 23 has to get back to earth earlier than expected.
This means that they will not land in the region where they were supposed to land.
The Soyuz 23 is supposed to land on the Kazakh steppe, a dry plain bigger than the state of Texas.
But to their horror, they realize that touchdown has become splashdown.
They hit the only 20-mile wide lake in the middle of the desert.
They're about to enter a whole world of pain.
The Soyuz has landed in the middle of the tengiz lake, and it's pitch black outside.
Snow is coming and the lake is covered, half snow, half ice, half water.
It's almost like a half frozen swamp.
An emergency radio beacon guides rescuers to the location.
But as the weather closes in, the emergency response team struggles to find the spacecraft in the dark.
The rescue crew is heading for the emergency landing spot, but they can't see the capsule, they don't know where it's landed.
The first helicopter which arrives to the site actually over-flies the site and then they have to fly back.
But once they activate the searchlight, it reflects from the heavy, heavy snow which has fallen, so they cannot see the surface of the lake.
The parachute attached to the module fills with water, dragging the capsule on its side and pulling the cosmonauts' escape hatch beneath the surface.
If they open the hatch, they'll drown.
If they stay inside, they'll suffocate.
Drowning or asphyxiation? That's not much of a choice.
A helicopter finally locates the stricken Soyuz.
The cosmonauts would have heard the helicopter overhead, they would have realized that help was at hand.
But the recovery team is not prepared for a water rescue.
Some of their crucial equipment for water recovery is missing because, of course, nobody even expected that it will end up in the lake.
And the weather is so bad, they cannot really land on a lake.
The rescue crew makes radio contact and discovered the two men are still alive, but they're in bad shape.
Their voices are changing.
Their breathing is getting heavier.
It's a certain sign that they are suffering from carbon dioxide poisoning.
Their own breath is killing them.
But without proper equipment, they are forced to delay the operation.
They have to postpone the rescue operations and try again hours later at dawn.
They have no idea whether the cosmonauts will live through the night.
The cosmonauts slip deeper into danger.
There is another drama which is developing on the spacecraft itself because all the saltwater starts seeping into the different sensors and one of the sensors activates backup parachute and that parachute deploys, into the water, of course, fills with water.
They realize that the water rushes into the spacecraft and they will drown immediately.
Inside the spacecraft, the temperature is dropping dangerously.
Even though they are wearing space suits, unless they are released soon, the cosmonauts are in serious risk of freezing to death.
At minus 7 degrees fahrenheit, the airless spacecraft drifts on the frozen lake for more than 10 hours.
Ice crystals actually form on the internal walls of the capsule and the crew gets really cold.
At first light, the rescue helicopter returns.
They have limited time they could stay alive in this situation, so they have to be rescued very quickly.
This time, when rescuers radio the Soyuz, there is no response.
The signal is dead.
The rescue team now fears the worst.
But still, they brave the extreme conditions to recover the stricken capsule.
In order to stage this daring rescue, a diver has to lower himself down on a cable, reach the capsule and hook it up to the helicopter, risking his own life in the process.
And the helicopter tries to lift the capsule out of the water with this line and cannot do it.
The capsule with the parachute is too heavy for the helicopter to pull out of the water.
If they try to lift the capsule, the weight could bring the helicopter crashing into the icy lake.
There is only one other option To pull the capsule to shore.
They have to drag, literally tow this capsule to the edge of the lake, a 45-minute journey.
And all this time, the parachute is dragging it, causing extra stress and load on the helicopter.
It's a completely untested and dangerous maneuver.
When they beach the capsule on the wooded shores of the lake, the rescuers open the hatch.
What they see inside appears to confirm all their worst fears.
They fully expect the cosmonauts to be dead when they open the capsule.
That's it.
It's over.
The rescuers think they are just trying to recover bodies now.
More than 10 hours after a disastrous emergency splashdown into icy waters, Russian rescue crews have pulled the stricken Soyuz capsule onto the nearest shore.
Inside the frozen capsule, the two cosmonauts are not moving.
Then one of them breathes.
Against all the odds, the two cosmonauts are alive.
One of them is already unconscious and another barely can breathe.
The incident is hushed up to prevent Soviet humiliation.
When the Russians gave their reports to NASA about Soyuz landing safety, events like the Soyuz 23's near-disaster were airbrushed out.
The official Soviet documentation was false.
It's not until glasnost a full decade later that the true nature of the mission is revealed.
Zudov and Rozhdestvensky were the victims of a deeply flawed system that was trying to compete in space with inadequate equipment and resources.
Soyuz 23 mission is probably one of the underappreciated and little known cases in human space-flight history where crew came really close to losing their lives and they had to cope with all of those situations and pretty much they had to improvise every step of the way.
The pride of Nazi Germany erupts in flames.
It is the first major aviation disaster captured on film, and it's horrifying.
It was reduced to a twisted mass of metal in just mere seconds.
An 80-year-old mystery that's never been solved.
No one can agree on exactly where the fire started or why.
What caused it still remains unexplained.
Until a NASA scientist unlocks a deadly secret known only to the Nazis.
I knew there was something more to the story than just hydrogen exploded.
The Hindenburg airship, showcase of Nazi engineering, approaches its destination Lakehurst naval air station in New Jersey.
The Hindenburg comes in and it's circling the field, it's changing its bows.
You see them dropping the landing lines.
The crew's on the ground grabbing ahold of them.
As the crew begin landing procedure, the rear of the Hindenburg suddenly erupts in flames.
Get this, Charley.
It's crashing.
It's crashing terrible.
Within a minute, the whole airship is alight.
Oh, my, get out of the way please.
It's burning, bursting into flames and it's And it's falling on the mooring mast and all the folks agree that this is terrible.
This is one of the worst catastrophes in the world.
97 passengers are trapped beneath the inferno.
Cameras capture the entire event.
Ladies and gentlemen, the smoke and the flames now.
Oh, the humanity! It is the first major aviation disaster captured on film, and it's horrifying.
The Hindenburg is over four times the length of a 747, but it was reduced to a twisted mass of metal in just mere seconds.
The disaster is a blow to the growing reputation of Nazi engineering.
The Hindenburg was the pride and joy of Nazi Germany.
To lose this airship was a huge embarrassment.
Investigators immediately suspect sabotage.
This is 1937 and anti-Nazi sentiment in the U.
Is already running high.
What better way to make a highly visible attack on Nazi arrogance than to strike at its greatest flagship? The FBI opens a case file.
But the investigation draws a blank.
There's no concrete evidence to support the sabotage theory, only hearsay and speculation.
So the precise cause of the accident remains a mystery.
For 60 years, researchers have to assume that the catastrophe was caused by a hydrogen leak.
But when NASA rocket scientist and hydrogen expert Addison bain reads the reports, he is not convinced.
I knew there was something more to this story than just hydrogen exploded.
And that's what prompted me then to start investigating.
Bain once headed the hydrogen program at NASA.
With his extensive work for Apollo and other space missions, he re-examines the original Hindenburg investigation reports.
With the next morning's first light, a naval inspection board search the still-smoking ruins for a possible clue that might yield a key to the mysterious disaster.
He first re-examines the widely held belief that a hydrogen leak sparked the conflagrations.
The Hindenburg contained enough highly flammable hydrogen to fill Madison Square Garden seven times over.
In the 1930s, Zeppelin ensured that their explosive gas was protected inside an airtight skin.
Fire requires fuel, oxygen and a source of ignition.
Everyone knows where the oxygen came from and thinks they know where the fuel came from.
Eyewitness reports suggest that as it landed, hydrogen was leaking from the craft.
The Zeppelin was listing and one witness claimed to see a cover fluttering as if gas was rising.
The conclusion seems straightforward.
One small spark and the passenger ship becomes a fireball.
The prevailing theory is that one of the hydrogen gas cells ignited, causing a chain reaction that engulfed the entire Hindenburg in flames.
But bain knows that although flammable, hydrogen will not ignite unless it is mixed with exactly the right amount of oxygen and that is virtually impossible to happen by chance.
You know, the flaw is primarily that hydrogen's so rich, it's not going to ignite until you get out there where you have a good mixture of hydrogen and air.
You got to have the right mixture before it ignites, so that theory that actually has that combination is very difficult and to have that ignition occurring at that same time is so far out there that the theory falls apart.
Bain revisits the disaster footage.
He is immediately struck by the speed of the fire.
It spreads at 49 feet (15m) per second.
Something in the outer covering of the Hindenburg is highly flammable.
The outer skin of the Hindenburg holds the key to the mystery.
Something else is burning very rapidly around the airship.
Bits of blackened fabric are all that remains of the proud luxury airliner Hindenburg.
Incredibly, bain is able to acquire a fragment of the Hindenburg's skin that survived the inferno.
His lab subjects it to a barrage of tests.
So i took samples of the fabric and then we started testing the compatibility, the make-up of the material, electrostatic properties and all of that.
And over time things started to gel as to really what happened.
To the untrained eye, the list of chemicals that coated the fabric seems unremarkable.
Its alloys are a fabric-based structure that's been doped with a combination of aluminum powder, iron oxide, butyl acetate, chemicals.
To NASA scientists, the chemical cocktail is shocking.
It resembles a compound called thermite.
Eventually used to fuel jet engines.
This is nuts! The Nazis basically painted the Hindenburg in rocket fuel.
Addison Bain and his team have discovered that the Hindenburg was coated in a substance resembling rocket fuel.
The smallest electrostatic spark will set off the precise chain reaction that lights up the Hindenburg.
Once that flames start and they spread rapidly, that heated up the hydrogen, so the cell just actually exploded.
But before bain can close the book on the mystery, he has one final obstacle to overcome.
There's a flaw here.
Other airships that have used the same coating have not burned up like the Hindenburg.
So why did the Hindenburg go up in flames and other zeppelins didn't? Bain believes he has the answer when he uncovers something unusual in reports from the airship's surviving crew members.
Navy wanted me them to come in at what's called a high mooring, something like 200 feet (61m).
Bain believes this was a fatal mistake.
At lower moorings, the zeppelin drops a 50-foot conductive wire to the ground to discharge built-up static electricity.
At that altitude of 200 feet (61m), the amount of charge built up was way in excess of what it would have been at 50 feet (15m).
At 200 feet (61m), the Hindenburg was hovering too high to shed the potentially deadly static.
The maneuver increased the chances of a stray spark.
The result Kaboom! All ends in a matter of seconds.
But bain's theories haven't convinced everyone.
Bain's theories have a lot of flaws.
One, the photos have been colorized, so it's impossible to tell what color the flame actually was.
Two, lots of other hydrogen airships have burned, especially during world war ii without that outer coating igniting.
Some conspiracy theorists also feel that the U.
Navy's insistence on a 200-foot mooring is deeply suspicious.
So whilst some believe this NASA scientist may have solved one of the most enduring mysteries in the history of aviation, not everyone is convinced that he is right.
Despite decades of analysis, it appears that we may never know what happened on that tragic day.
Scientists bounce lasers off the moon.
When the signal vanishes The timing is uncanny.
The disappearance of the laser signal always coincides with the full moon.
Could this be the curse of the full moon? Sounds like a crazy story.
This scientific research really did find something weird.
The full moon has long been a source of fascination and wonder, influencing human behavior and inspiring folklore.
We always have these legends, these mysteries of the moon when it's full.
Wolves howl, people become crazy, werewolves come out.
Many experiments have been done to see if there is a link between the full moon and strange phenomena.
No study has ever found a genuine link between the moon and unusual behavior, until now.
This time, scientists are doing real research and it's coming back with something strange.
July 2005, astronomer russet mcmillan and her team at apache point observatory are making precise measurements of the distance to the moon.
The team bounces their powerful lasers off retroreflectors left on the lunar surface by three of the Apollo missions.
They were basically suitcase-sized banks of very small prisms that bounced back a laser signal from earth at the same angle that it comes in at.
But astronomers begin to notice something very odd with their experiment.
Roughly every four weeks, the reflected laser signal mysteriously disappears.
So, once a month, we're shining our laser at the moon and the signal level drops drastically.
It's really strange to shoot a laser and not receive anything back.
That's really odd.
Months after months, we are seeing the same thing happen.
Stranger still is the timing of the signal loss.
For some reason the disappearance of a laser signal coincides with a full moon.
The question here is why? What is going on? That's what we want to figure out.
Scientists at apache point university are spooked when signals bounced off lunar reflectors mysteriously disappear during every full moon.
The retroreflectors have been sitting on the moon for over 40 years, since the Apollo 11 crew deposited the first one.
Buzz aldrin pulls this device out and set it down on the ground and then made sure that he pointed it very accurately back at earth.
The team suspects that the problem could be due to a fault with the reflector panels.
To test this idea, they bounced their lasers off panels attached to discarded Soviet lunar hardware.
Those reflectors still had the same problem.
We see the same reduction in the reflected light from the laser on the Russian rover.
The mystery deepens.
Could lunar dust be blocking their signals? The moon is a dusty and dirty place.
To watch the astronauts bouncing around on the moon and the dust is getting kicked up by their lunar rover and their boots.
The dust on the moon is extremely fine and it sticks to everything.
It got our suits dirty and you couldn't dust it off.
And we told NASA when we got back, "you're gonna have to come up with a cleaning kit for the next mission.
" Lunar dust is created by meteors and asteroids that are constantly bombarding the moon.
Those impacts happen all the time on the moon.
So over time, any equipment left on the surface, like these retroreflectors, is going to get dusty from all these impacts.
But the lunar dust theory has its own problems.
If it's dust, why do we get a perfect laser signal from the lunar reflectors for the entire rest of the month? Dust would be there all the time, so it's got to be something else.
Some commentators begin to wonder whether the full moon itself is somehow causing the change.
For a long time, the full moon has been seen as a very special time.
And when scientists found that they weren't receiving these signals back from the retroreflectors, it kind of fell in line with the idea of there being something weird with the full moon.
We get the word "lunatic" from the idea that the full moon has strange powers.
Ideas like that never really go away.
Once a month as the earth and moon orbit the sun, the face we see becomes completely bathed in sunlight, resulting in a full moon.
Could it be possible that there is some sort of activity that only occurs on the moon when it's under direct sunlight? If it was a life-form that remained dormant in the dark, that would explain why the laser signal only disappeared intermittently.
It sounds fantastic, but it's not unheard of.
On earth there are many forms of life that are dormant, that are inactive when they are in the cold and in the dark and only really come alive when there is direct sunlight, when there is heat.
In 2009, biologists found dormant bacteria deep in the freezing environment of the arctic.
These microorganisms came back to life when exposed to heat.
Could something like that be happening on the moon as well? But scientists don't believe there are "werebugs" on the moon.
The moon has been dead for a long, long time.
There is not going to be anything like that.
The astronomers are left perplexed and with no explanation for their full moon curse.
For five years the curse goes unexplained until in December 2010, Mcmillan's team shine their lasers towards the full moon as it enters a total lunar eclipse.
So, at full moon the surface of the moon is lit up by the sun.
It's very hot.
During a lunar eclipse, the earth moves directly between the moon and the sun.
Our planet blocks the sunlight reaching the moon.
As the earth's shadow passes across the moon, all of a sudden the temperatures plummet, the sunlight goes away and we see the signal from the reflectors recover.
But the reflected laser light is coming back even stronger than normal.
Could the sun's heat be behind the full moon curse? So what they appear to have actually discovered is that these retroreflectors change their properties depending upon temperature.
In other words, they work differently when they are hot versus when they are cold.
The retroreflectors are made up of dozens of small prisms.
They are designed to return laser light exactly in the direction from which it comes.
However, during a full moon, intense sunlight causes them to warp slightly.
The layer of dust will heat up in the sunlight and warm the reflector, that will cause the reflection to be muddled so that it may reflect in multiple directions.
That's when their signals kind of go awry.
Ancient traditions are easily dismissed as primitive superstitions, but sometimes science is spookier than our imagination.
This is actual scientific research and it really did find something weird.
Still to come, is a secret world hiding behind the sun? It'd be amazing if there were other people out there on another planet that were just hidden from view.
And pillars of fire ignite in our atmosphere.
What are they? We didn't know.
Two distant planets play hide-and-seek around their star.
It appears that around a star, there are two planets that occupy the same orbit.
Could the same thing happen around our sun? It'd be amazing if there were other people out there on another planet that were just hidden from view.
Could our earth have a twin? NASA scientists exploring the outer reaches of our universe discover Koi-730, a bizarre distant solar system where orbiting planets are doing something extraordinary.
They see what appears to be four planets and what's strange is that two of the planets have the exact same orbit.
Astronomers believe that twin planets in the distant solar system could be a window to our past.
In the early parts of the solar system, there were planets all over the place.
It could be possible that what we are seeing is indeed two planets sharing the same orbit around the star.
And that opens up the intriguing possibility that there could still be an entire world permanently hidden from sight on the other side of our sun.
It's a very appealing idea.
There is a twin earth on the other side of the sun perpetually hidden from our view.
It's like dance partners, not touching one another but pirouetting around a dance floor in synchronism.
So that they sweep around the star in the same number of days, but they would be invisible to one another.
Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has speculated about a distant planetary twin.
This observation brings to mind ideas that have been a part of humans since the early civilization.
It shows up in popular culture and it's even shown up in Sci-Fi movies.
Both scientists and authors have long speculated about these lost worlds on fantastical orbits or even a doppleganger planet nearing our own.
Although fantastic, a stealth twin hidden behind our sun is scientifically possible.
To us today, it sounds perhaps like a loopy idea that there is this counter earth.
But it actually has a basis in physics.
There have actually been modern scientists who've postulated that there are hidden worlds in our solar system.
It's a fascinating concept.
It'd be amazing if there were other people out there on another planet that were just hidden from view.
And this twin earth would be completely shielded from sight by the sun.
The sun is so big and bright that from our vantage point here on earth, we could never see a planet in this blind spot.
And in fact this blind spot is really big, so you could hide a significant body there.
I mean that planet could be as big as Jupiter and you still wouldn't see it.
It makes us wonder whether we can ever really rule out whether there is something there.
It's very mysterious.
In 2006, NASA launched a mission to investigate the sun, which would prove or disprove the two-earth theory once and for all.
A special spacecraft called stereo, there's two of them actually that are observing our sun.
They actually are sometimes able to go at a very special angle where they can see the region that we are talking about.
And so, for just a brief period of time, there is no blind spot and we have not seen another earth.
Earth may not have a hidden twin today, but scientists believe that an ancient second earth is responsible for the largest and the most familiar world in our night sky.
There is no twin of earth in our orbit today, but, you know, four, four and a half billion years ago, that might have been different.
The moon was a result of a collision, a smashup between two worlds, our planet and another world about the size of Mars.
Where did that rock the size of Mars come from? It was in orbit around the sun, the same orbit as earth and suddenly the partners get a little too close and there is a collision that resulted in what we see in the sky every night.
When scientists examine data from the far away system more closely, they realize that the planets don't quite exist in exactly the same orbit, but the concept still remains possible.
So far, we have no examples of two planets sharing an orbit.
But under the right circumstances, there is nothing that says they can't.
So, as long as we keep searching, perhaps one day we will.
Astronauts aboard the iss witness pillars of fire exploding high above the earth.
They are way too high for natural lights from the ground.
It almost looks like our atmosphere's on fire.
Could the earth be under attack? In August 2015, the crew aboard the iss are looking down at the earth 249 miles below them.
You can see all the different natural, you know, beauties of the rainforests, the mountains, lakes, oceans, things like that.
Every part of the earth, whether it's day or night, is interesting.
But on this mission, the team captures a startling image.
When the photos were received here on earth, people noticed that there were some really strange streaks, pillars of fire, branching up.
It almost looks like we are under attack.
Like our atmosphere's on fire, the blood red color.
It's actually kind of creepy.
They look very strange, they look alien.
And i can't think of anything else i have ever seen in the atmosphere that could be comparable to what this looks like.
What are they? We didn't know.
When NASA releases pictures of the mysterious colored lights photographed from the iss, the images go global.
The glowing red light seems to be radiating energy from a much larger area of intense white light.
It looks like some weird force, something strange and alien, but could it have an earthly origin? In 2012, amateur astronomers in Texas actually planned an experiment to contact the space station using a one-watt laser.
It would be possible to indicate something to the iss.
Of course if someone were to shine a powerful enough laser, you might be able to see it.
Although the astronomers were successful, signaling the iss required sophisticated equipment and coordination on both sides.
The researchers used a really powerful one-watt laser.
Most of the red dot lasers you are familiar with are only a fraction of that power.
It's actually really difficult to signal the iss with a laser.
This shape, form and intensity of the high-altitude light display makes the laser explanation seem unlikely.
These branching red lights arcing high into the atmosphere, they have a very organic shape.
These are not weak lights.
These are very powerful flashes.
They don't look like a laser beam.
This clearly has to be something else.
Could the location and time of year be the key to solving the mystery? It was near the time of carnival.
This was filmed over Mexico and the lights kind of look in the shape of firework and many fireworks are red.
But some people were speculating that it could be a firework show.
But when the photos are cross-referenced with the timing of carnival, the fireworks theory fizzles out.
Carnival is still six months away.
Unfortunately fireworks, astronauts can't see them.
They are just too low in the atmosphere.
They are just too dim.
They are too small.
These lights are way too big and they are way too high for natural lights from the ground.
The lights aren't coming from earth.
Experts must now consider if they are related to objects from outer space.
Some might argue that this massive light could have been a meteorite or an asteroid or for that matter even a comet.
Earth is hit by tons and tons of space rocks every day.
They come in from outer space.
They burn up in our atmosphere most of the time.
They create fireballs, sometimes they create objects called bolides.
Bolide is when a large enough meteorite actually explodes and it gives off flashes of light.
When a bolide enters earth's atmosphere, it disintegrates on entry, leaving fiery streaks across the sky.
In 2013, a bolide exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, creating a flash of light brighter than the sun seen for hundreds of miles.
But if the fiery pillars were bolides, NASA would have seen them coming.
NASA has what we call the near earth object program, but they can detect and catalog only the things that have been discovered.
And on occasions, there are objects that we do not see.
Nothing was forecast to hit at the time the lights were seen.
And the color of the lights over Mexico makes the bolide theory unlikely.
These lights are crimson red.
Meteors are usually a bright blue, white, green maybe, but not usually red.
When atmospheric scientists view the images, they realized that the astronauts' unique vantage point is the key to the strange phenomenon.
Astronauts on the international space station have a completely different perspective on what they're seeing.
That's because they are at high altitude.
This means that the astronauts' position above the atmosphere has granted them privileged access, enabling them to photograph an unusual meteorological event that is rarely seen below An explosion of red sprites.
Red sprites are basically what we call reverse or positive lightning.
Nitrogen atoms are getting excited over massive thunderclouds.
They are sort of like lightning except instead of going down, they go up.
They happen very high up in the atmosphere, plus they happen very, very quickly, just a millisecond.
They are more of a discharge of electrical energy above a lightning storm.
It is very difficult to observe red sprites from the ground simply because of the clouds of the thunderstorm usually hide them.
Now that we have astronauts in orbit, they can get pictures from above.
It's an incredible stroke of luck for NASA.
The astronauts were in the right place at the right time to capture red sprites on film from space.
These photos will be vital in gaining a better understanding of this extraordinary atmospheric event.
Sprites are still very rare and they are only recently discovered, so there's still a lot that we don't know about them.
I'm sure there is more that we can learn.
The more time we spend in space, orbiting earth, the more strange phenomena we are going to see.
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