Photographer Captures Ultra-Rare Red Ring of Light Over Italy

The ELVE that appeared for just a few milliseconds over Italy.

A photographer has captured a rare and mysterious phenomenon called ELVE which appears as a massive red ring of light in the sky and is generated from thunderstorm clouds.

Valter Binotto captured the ELVE which appeared for only a few milliseconds over Italy on Monday, March 27. It was 223 miles (359 kilometers) wide and located 62 miles (100 kilometers) high in the ionosphere.

Binotto tells PetaPixel that he had to employ a specialist technique and equipment to capture this wonderous phenomenon.

“With normal cameras, they are difficult to photograph,” he says. “The light they emit is very low and in the infrared, where the sensors cannot see. I use a camera without the normal IR Cut filter so it also sees the infrared band well.”

ELVE map
A map showing the scale of the ELVE that appeared and Binotto’s field-of-view.

To capture the image, Binotto was recording video at 25 frames per second on his Sony a7S that had a Nikon 20mm f/1.8 attached.

“The camera is set to 51,200 ISO and the lens is wide open. I record on an Atomos Ninja flame at 4K,” he adds.

What is an ELVE?

ELVE stands for Emissions of Light and Very Low-Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources. It’s a rare form of Sprite, itself a large-scale electrical discharge that occurs high above a thunderstorm cloud that scientists are still studying.

There are many different types of Sprites with an ELVE being the largest and rarest. To see one, you must be very far away from the thunderstorm it’s generated from. ELVEs were only discovered in 1990 by the camera onboard a space shuttle.

“The ELVE was generated by intense lightning in a storm near Ancona about 177 miles (285 kilometers) south of me,” Binotto explains to Space Weather.

“One bolt was so strong, it generated an intense electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The red ring marks the spot where the EMP hit Earth’s ionosphere. Normal lightning bolts carry 10 to 30 kilo-ampères of current; this bolt was about 10 times stronger than normal.”


Binotti tells PetaPixel that he has been photographing these events since 2017 and after seeing photos of them on the internet wanted to capture an ELVE himself.

“The storm I was following was quite strong and this made me hope to be able to see something,” he says.

“The ELVE is quite rare to see and I was hoping so much to be able to photograph one sooner or later, that evening I was expecting Sprites, another form of lightning.”

Binotti says this is the most amazing photo of a Sprite he has ever captured.

“This is the first ELVE I see and that I photograph, the conditions were excellent, clear sky, right distance, and perfect framing.”

More of Binotto’s work can be found on his Facebook, Instagram, and website.

Image credits: All photos by Valter Binotto.