Lightning capture at 7 thousand frames per second
July 15, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

These each take about 1/2 second but have been expanded to ~30 seconds. I read a book about Tesla awhile ago, and he seemed to view lighting almost like a fluid (and electricity in general). This is a really cool, really interesting way to view it, and the videos here are mesmerizing.
posted by davezor (23 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
There should probably be a link to Tom A. Warner's gallery; there are way more videos and images and he's the original source of the footage.

But it's really cool how that first cloud-to-ground strike looks like a search algorithm, which, in a way, I suppose it is.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:09 PM on July 15, 2012 [16 favorites]

I loved how it bifurcated in the first video, like capillaries.
posted by arcticseal at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

This makes me want to finally bring my creation to life. It all seems so possible now!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:35 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Absolutely stunning. It's rare that you see something natural that looks so unreal.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 2:39 PM on July 15, 2012

I wonder if I need to license these videos before using them.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 2:52 PM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

It never occurred to me before watching these that lightning could strike upward. But that totally makes sense.
posted by axiom at 3:06 PM on July 15, 2012

The first four seconds of the first video reminds me of the emergent behavior that you see from slime mold in route finding experiments. You see a bunch of local solutions 'tested', which are then either strengthened or culled and then - BAM! - the globally optimal solution is found.
posted by rh at 3:25 PM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

these videos are fantastic. thanks for posting this.
posted by moss free at 3:38 PM on July 15, 2012

Looks like the "main" lightning tendrils don't vary at all after they are established. Is this an artifact of the hardware or because of the very high frame rate?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:43 PM on July 15, 2012

Or because that's what's actually happening?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2012

Oh MAN, WeathervideoHD.TV is a pretty damn awesome source for cool stuff like this. I am surprised nobody's made an FPP out of that!

And thanks for posting this; I'd seen this guy's work a little while back, and I thought it was via MeFi (because it's really the only site I visit for cool links), but I may be mistaken. These videos are just mesmerizing.
posted by not_on_display at 3:47 PM on July 15, 2012

These are truly incredible videos. Works of art.

I recommend putting on some deep house in the background for an enhanced effect.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 4:22 PM on July 15, 2012

It never occurred to me before watching these that lightning could strike upward.

Lightning often strikes upward, but usually only part way as the charge inequity works to bridge the gap and balance itself.

Looks like the "main" lightning tendrils don't vary at all after they are established. Is this an artifact of the hardware or because of the very high frame rate?

Or because that's what's actually happening?

I've seen someplace that once the path for the charge is established through the atmosphere to a grounding point, it tends to pretty much stay the same, as once electrons start flowing in a circuit such as lightening, it's most efficient for them to continue to flow one after another rather than forge new paths.

I was obsessed with the science of lightning as a kid, and did a lot of study and reading about it for a while, but it's been years since I've done any kind of refresher, so if anyone has other information that's more accurate, that would be appreciated.
posted by hippybear at 4:39 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's amazing that the main strike lasts less than half a second, but there also lots of secondary arcs that seem to last only a frame or two even at this speed, which would mean they last less than a thousandth of a second.
posted by straight at 5:27 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or because that's what's actually happening?

Yes, the column of air around the main lightning strike is (more) ionized... meaning there are free electric charges (ions and electrons) to act as a good conductor.
posted by fatllama at 5:33 PM on July 15, 2012

In challenging electrical concepts of the time, Tesla himself was quite the lightning rod.

One down-to-earth (or up-from-earth) example was his domed lightning protector vs. Benjamin Franklin's sharply pointed rod. From Tesla Universe, the November 1918 Electrical Experimenter article Tesla Has New Pointless Lightning Rod explains:
Since the introduction of the lightning rod over one hundred years ago by Benjamin Franklin, its adoption as a means of protection against destructive atmospheric discharges such as lightning bolts, has been practically universal. In a recent discussion on the subject of lightning protection, Dr. Nikola Tesla of New York, brings out many interesting facts not generally known concerning the real efficacy of the ordinary lightning rod as installed on houses, barns and public buildings all over the world.

Says, Dr. Tesla, “The efficacy of the ordinary lightning rod is to a certain degree unquestionably establisht thru statistical records, but there is generally a prevalent, nevertheless, a singular theoretical fallacy as to its operation, and its construction is radically defective in one feature, namely its typical pointed terminal.” In his new form of lightning protecting rod and terminal here illustrated, Tesla avoids all such points on the metal parts facing skyward, and uses an entirely different form and arrangement of terminals.
More details in Tesla's Patent No. 1,266,175 Lightning Protector, May 14, 1918. Recent studies have shown that rods with blunt tips are better strike receptors.
posted by cenoxo at 8:12 PM on July 15, 2012

At 14 or so, I rebuilt an old TV EHT circuit on a radio chassis, so I could play around with a few tens of kilovolts. How I ever made 15 or so, I have no idea - I regularly blew the house fuses, gave myself shocks and set things on fire... but when you're young, you're hard to kill. The same wasn't true of most of the things I zapped. LEDs do glow at 15kV (around ten thousand times their rated voltage), just not for very long.

One of the things I discovered during my periods of consciousness was that if you strike an arc across a piece of glass so that it heats up along the path, the glass (previously a very good insulator) becomes conductive while it's molten. With care and patience, and very clean/dry glass, you can build up patterns not dissimilar to lightning, but as soon as the glass starts to melt on the path you have to stop (or short out the EHT generator, which grumbles and, sometimes, combusts).

Same process in real lightning - once the discharge has found a working path to/from ground and dumped its energy, the air on that path - previously a good insulator - is turned into plasma, which is a good conductor. Further discharges find that much, much easier to follow than forcing a path through the un-ionised, insulating air around it. So you get repeated strikes along the same path, often very rapid and close together, and in some movies of lightning you can see the core path being blown along by the wind during this process.

This is very violent, and generates a number of interesting byproducts. Satellites looking for cosmic events can be deceived by the high energy photons that sometimes get squirted into space.

At the extremely other end of the EM spectrum, lightning generates signals that echo around the planet (and others - Jovian Whistlers isn't just a great band name, and there's talk of finding them on exoplanets).

The more I learn about lightning, the cooler it gets. And I thought 15kV was clever.
posted by Devonian at 8:26 PM on July 15, 2012 [12 favorites]

Technically plasma is a form of fluid, right? So lightning is in fact a fluid.
posted by delmoi at 9:28 PM on July 15, 2012

Also, this video is pretty interesting. You can see how the heated wood from the fire becomes a better conductor, allowing more electricity through and eventually gets up to the point where it can create a plasma arc gradually.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

delmoi: "Technically plasma is a form of fluid, right? So lightning is in fact a fluid."
Rather, I think you'd say it's a current running through a fluid medium. The plasma isn't the lightning, it's created by the lightning ionizing the air as it blazes a path through it.

Kinda like if you threw a baseball at 0.9c.
posted by brokkr at 2:51 AM on July 16, 2012

Megalightning and The Demise of STS-107 Space Shuttle Columbia:
  • Did damage caused by a foam strike on launch cause the disaster?
  • Did an electrical discharge event now known as "megalightning" occur in the upper atmosphere upon reentry contributing to the demise of the shuttle?
Given that visual evidence of upper-atmospheric lightning was not available until 1989 (and confirmed later by various Shuttle videotapes) and that such phenomena are not fully understood, would this not be possible?
posted by cenoxo at 4:33 AM on July 16, 2012

Flagged, Devonian, as fantastic. Thanks for that comment.
posted by nevercalm at 5:49 AM on July 16, 2012

Dissecting a derecho bolt: more to lightning than meets the eye (and camera lens):
Over a year ago, NOAA’s Scott Rudlosky and I began discussing an effort to match a lightning photograph with its corresponding lightning data recorded by the Washington D.C. Lightning Mapping Array (DCLMA). We felt that we could learn more about the lightning that we see flashing across the sky by investigating the data behind the flash, such as where it originated, where it traveled, its elevation, and where it struck ground. But we needed a good lightning photo to compare with the data, and the lightning photograph needed to be taken within the DCLMA boundaries which spans much of the greater Washington area.

Finally, on the evening of June 29 - the night of the destructive derecho storm, we had our opportunity. During an intense storm chase with Ian Livingston, I photographed a unique lightning discharge over Washington. I emailed the photo to Scott with the time/date stamp and he began his investigative work.
posted by peeedro at 12:34 PM on July 19, 2012

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