A Collaboration based on a New Atmospheric Phenomenon Called Red Sprites

Peter McLeish


Peter McLeish will discuss the nature of his collaboration based on Red Sprites.

Red sprites are upper atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with thunderstorms that have recently been only documented using low level television. The first images of a sprite were taken in 1989 and from 1990 to 1994 the space shuttle obtained twenty more images. Despite nearly a century of anecdotal reports from airline pilots, most scientists didn't really believe in sprites until the first images were captured on high-speed video. The blink of an eye last 250 milliseconds: sprites often last only ten. Cameras and computer models freeze sprites in time. Red Sprites were considered UFOs by pilots before their discovery.

Since 2001, Peter has been involved in a collaboration based on Red Sprites with American scientist Walter A. Lyons. This collaboration eventually led to Walter A. Lyons receiving a Unites States National Science Foundation grant regarding the collaboration and subsequent creation of Lyons’s DVD titled The Hundred Year Hunt for Red Sprites and interactive website. Peter created the artwork in the The Hundred Year Hunt for Red Sprites as well as his companion-six minute film titled Lightning’s Angels. Since 2002, both films have been presented at many major International science symposiums, conferences, media festivals, science film festivals, science & art museums/centres and planetariums all over the world. Peter’s continued research subsequently led him to an additional collaboration with Dr. Colin Price from the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science, Tel Aviv University who was working on sprite research from a ground station with the ill-fated crew of the Columbia in 2003. Since 2007, Peter has been working on a new project titled Polaris Terrarum about the Polar Regions.

Walter was the 2005 President of the American Meteorological Society, President (2007-08) United States National Council of Industrial Meteorologists and current President of FMA Research Inc. - Sky-Fire Productions (Colorado, USA). Peter McLeish is a painter /multi-media artist / filmmaker with a Masters of Fine Arts degree. Peter had received over twenty various types of grants and/or support from different branches of the Canadian and/or Quebec Governments between -1991 to 2008. Peter has been developing work and research on science based themes since the late 1990's. His work and research has appeared in many international forums in museums/centers such as the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum in Chicago-United States, the National Museum of Australia in Canberra-Australia, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne-Australia, RiAus/The Royal Institution of Australia in Adelaide-Australia, European Space Research & Technology Centre in Noordwijk-Netherlands, the NATO Advanced Study Institute Sprites, Elves and Intense Lightning Discharge in Corsica-France, the Australian Museum in Sydney- Australia, the Carter Observatory in Wellington-New Zealand ,Stardome in Auckland-New Zealand, the Spazio Oberdan in Milan- Italy , Sala Emilio Saraco / Neuquén Museum of Fine Arts in Neuquén–Argentina, the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull-United Kingdom, TELUS World of Science-Calgary in Calgary-Canada, Canada South Science City in Windsor-Canada, the Geological Museum-Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen-Denmark, Planetarium Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany, the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh-United States and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C-United States.

The Hundred Year Hunt For The Red Sprite is a 42 minute film which documents one of the most unexpected scientific findings in the atmosphere during the late 20th century. For over a century, people, including well respected scientists, had reported seeing strange lights in the night sky about thunderstorms - and they were. But it remained for a “happy accident” in 1989 when the first such event was captured on a low-light camera’s video tape. One researcher exclaimed it was as if Biology had just suddenly discovered a new human body part. Since then, an entire “zoo” of luminous creatures have been found in the thin air above thunderstorms. And the discoveries are still being made. This program shows how the public can become engaged in the search for new thunderstorm related electrical phenomena. This film also discusses aspects of astronomy, space science and meteorology.

Lightning’s Angels is a six-minute film that combines digitally enhanced oil paintings of a Sprite, in various states of transformation which cannot be seen with cameras. This film is accompanied with the song MISERERE from the CD STATE OF GRACE by Paul Schwartz featuring the Joyful Company of Singers.
Peter believes it is important to promote unity, between art and science in order to create a better understanding of the natural world.