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

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 17 2014 4:08 PM How Teflon Is Vladimir Putin's Popularity?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 17 2014 4:10 PM Can These Women Fix the NFL? Or will the NFL fix them?
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 4:07 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Genius of Jenson’s Roman
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?