Stroke of Luck: Massive Lightning Strike on Dubai's Burj Khalifa

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 13 2014 2:52 PM

Tower of Power

lightning stirking tallest building
ZAP! Click to coulombenate.

Photo by Michael Shainblum, used by permission

Holy amperage! Gifted photographer Michael Shainblum (who has been featured on this blog before, like here and here and here and here) just sent me a note that he took this outrageously jaw-dropping photo on Feb. 12, 2014. That’s the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, located in downtown Dubai, United Arab Emirates. During the storm Shainblum stood in the rain while taking time-lapse footage using two cameras. One camera got soaked during an unusually heavy downpour—but Shainblum saw the big lightning strike and was able to get this photo off the camera showing it perfectly.

(Update, 19:30 UTC Feb. 13, 2014: Photographer Brian Hawkins, who was with Shainblum at the time, created a short time-lapse animation of the strike on the building. It's equally astonishing:

Advertisement

Thanks to Hawkins for letting me know!)

Looking at this more carefully, I think most of the fainter trails are not actually lightning bolts, but upward streamers. Lightning moves downward from a cloud through a series of "step leaders," short strokes of ionized gas. When a leader nears the surface, the ground reacts by sending up a short streamer. If the two connect, BANG! Leaders and streamers are much weaker than the actual lightning stroke, so I suspect that's what we're seeing, especially since so many of the zig-zagged streamers are connected to the ground but not the cloud. Amazing.

Given the way the Internet can be, on his 500px page Shainblum describes what happened and notes “This photograph is 100% real!”

Given his history, I believe him. Sometimes luck favors the persistent. But then, that’s what luck is: Small chances x time x persistence x opportunity. A lot of stuff is squished into that last variable, but I’m glad Shainblum made this happen. I expect to be seeing this picture all over the Net pretty soon. Wow.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 21 2014 11:27 AM There Is Now a Real-life Hoverboard You Can Preorder for $10,000
  Life
Quora
Oct. 21 2014 11:37 AM What Was It Like to Work at the Original Napster?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.