Travel through Space and discover the mysteries of Sprites: First recordings of these dazzling lights in South Africa

Professor Mike Kosch will present the NASSP Collquim with a talk entitled, "Travel through Space and discover the mysteries of Sprites:  First recordings of these dazzling lights in South Africa". 

Sprites are a gas discharge phenomenon in the mesosphere and upper stratosphere powered by lightning strikes from large convective thunderstorms. They are very bright but very brief and, although quite common, have never been recorded before now in South Africa. This presentation will describe the background and physics associated with sprites as well as show first recordings from Sutherland in 2016.

Prof Mike Kosch was born and raised in Durban where he achieved his BSc Electronic Engineering and a PhD in Space Physics. He was based in Europe for over two decades, first as a postdoc and scientist at the Max-Planck Institute in Germany and then as a professor of Experimental Space Science and faculty research Dean at Lancaster University in the UK. He now works at SANSA as the Chief Scientist for the Space Science Programme. 

A novel application pioneered by Mike uses the EISCAT high-power radar system to study, for example, the effects of global warming in the atmosphere, where C02 and methane emissions are causing the atmosphere to contract. One of Mike’s current projects is the development of an optical interferometer to remotely measure air speed and temperature at altitudes between 100 and 300km. The interferometer will also enable Mike and his team to study gravity waves in the atmosphere something which has not yet been studied in Southern Africa. 

Another area of interest for Mike is sprites. Triggered by lightning, sprites are optical gas discharges from the top of convective thunderstorm clouds that appear briefly, but very brightly, in the mesosphere. Sprites have been studied extensively in the US and Europe, however nobody had ever reported seeing one over Africa. With South Africa being a lightning rich country, Mike and his team went on the hunt to capture the first images of Sprites in Africa and now use the phenomena as a research subject for student projects. When Mike isn’t chasing sprites or gravity waves, he’s likely to be found exploring in his Land Rover, dogsledding in the Arctic or photographing auroras. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 10:00

Astronomy Seminar Room, 5th Floor RW James Building, Upper Campus, UCT