Global Electric Circuit and Transient Luminous Events
Thanks to NASA and the ISS crew members, we are now able to see what a Transient Luminous Event looks like with respect to our Atmosphere. Using the original photo of a Sprite taken by the ISS, I was able to add in the rest of the TLEs that we have identified.
Basically, the radiation from the Sun and the Cosmos strip electrons from the gas molecules in our atmosphere and as a result they create charged particles. When thunderstorms develop they create a storm current that flows upward and into the Ionosphere where they interact with these charged particles. The current continues to flow in the Ionosphere until they reach an area of Fair Weather, where the current now begins to flow downward towards the surface of the earth. Even if there is no storm present, there will always be a small amount of current flowing between the surface of the Earth and the Ionosphere.
The exact role of TLEs is not yet fully understood but one theory suggests that they are a means of reducing the abundance of charge created between the surface of the Earth and the Ionosphere, during a powerful thunderstorm.
Note: There are many other participants in our Global Electric Circuit that I could not add to this chart.
The info I provided above was thanks to a Teachers Guide from the University of Colorado: sisko.colorado.edu/FESD/MeetPresentFiles/2013.GEC.3.21.pdf