Auckland cameraman Larryn Rae got a once in a lifetime shot last night when he captured a rare red sprite in the sky off the coast of New Zealand.
Rae, a cameraman with a passion for photography, was running an astrophotography workshop at Te Arai beach north of Auckland last night when he noticed lightning in the distance and decided to set up a time lapse to capture the action.
It wasn't until he got home and was going through the photos he realised he had an image very few people will ever capture.
One photo has a series of red lines at the top of the frame known as a red sprite.
Red sprites are rare bolts of red lightning that are rarely seen from the ground due to their high altitude (about 80km above earth), the fact they only last a few milliseconds and their relative dimness.
Rae said he had heard of red sprites a few years before and once he had discounted a lens flare he started searching for more information on them.
"I'm pretty stoked and fortunate," Rae said. "It feels like a once in a lifetime shot."
He had talked to other friends who were into photography and none had ever captured the phenomenon.
They are sparks created in the atmosphere above a storm cloud following lightning below the cloud. When the electrical field created by the lightning charge is big enough, it creates a spark which goes upward.
According to NASA "viewers on the ground can occasionally photograph sprites by looking out on a thunderstorm in the distance (often looking out from high mountainsides over storms in lower plains)".
Rae said last night's thunderstorm looked to be out to sea off the Tauranga area.
• Experimental physicist John Winckler accidentally discovered sprites, while helping to test a new low-light video camera in 1989.
• Four years later University of Alaska researchers got the first intentional photo of a sprite.
• The presence of nitrogen gas gives the bursts their distinctive red glow, although closer to a thunder cloud they look blue.