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: "A blue starter is an electric streamer discharge coming out of the top of a thundercloud, fanning out and reaching up to the stratosphere as high as 26 km altitude. First reported by UAF scientists Wescott and Sentman in 1995/1996, they were found to be different from blue jets, which reach 35-40 km height."
"Since then, there have been very few reports of blue starters," continues van der Velde. "It seems that unusual physical circumstances may be required to produce them. Also, geometry can prevent people from seeing blue starters when a cloud is nearby because the underbody of the cloud can block their view. At larger distances the blue/violet light does not make it to the observer due to scattering."
Update: Since the posting of this story, several readers have come forward with "blue starter" sightings of their own. The phenomenon has appeared over the Balkans (Ulrich Beinert), over Virginia (Joseph M. Zawodny), and over Quebec (Gabriel Cyr). Maybe they are not so rare, after all!
Blue starters and blue jets are cousins of sprites, another form of exotic lightning that shoots up instead of down. Sprites, however, are more frequently observed. Check them out in the realtime photo gallery:
Crown flash is a rare but observed phenomenon involving "The brightening of a thunderhead crown followed by the appearance of aurora-like streamers emanating into the clear atmosphere". The current hypothesis is that sunlight is reflecting off or refracting through tiny ice crystals above the crown of a cumulonimbus cloud. These ice crystals are aligned by the strong electro-magnetic effects around the cloud, so the effect may appear as a tall streamer or pillar of light. When the electro-magnetic field is disturbed by lightning flashes within the cloud, the ice crystals are re-orientated causing the light pattern to shift very rapidly and appear to 'dance' in a strikingly mechanical fashion. The effect may also sometimes known as a "leaping sundog". As with sundogs, the observer would have to be in a specific position to see the effect, which is not a self-generated light such as seen in a lightning strike, but rather a changing reflection/refraction of the sunlight.
originally posted by: stormcell
I read that that explanation was that the electric fields above the cloud were rapidly changing as the electric charge from the storm was being redistributed. This had the effect of reorienting the hexagonal ice crystals, so that light would be reflected in different directions.