Lightning strikes during a test of a new laser guide star at the Allgäu Public Observatory in Ottobeuren, Germany. Credit: Martin Kornmesser, ESO
Lightning strikes during a test of a new laser guide star at the Allgäu Public Observatory in Ottobeuren, Germany. Credit: Martin Kornmesser, ESO

Astrophotos, Observatories

Astrophoto: Laser Lightning!

6 Sep , 2011 by

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Yikes! This science-fiction-like scene was captured by Martin Kornmesser, a visual artist for the European Southern Observatory. Just as the ESO was testing a new laser guide star unit at the Allgäu Public Observatory in Ottobeuren, Germany, a thunderstorm erupted, throwing down bolts of lightning. The folks at ESO say this is a “very visual demonstration of why ESO’s telescopes are in Chile, and not in Germany.” Although the storm was still far from the observatory, the lightning appears to clash with the laser beam in the sky.

Laser guide stars are one type of adaptive optics astronomers use to correct for the blurring effect of the atmosphere in astronomical observations. The laser creates an artificial guide star 90 kilometers up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The laser in this photograph is a powerful one, with a 20-watt beam, but the power in a bolt of lightning peaks at a trillion watts — although it lasts for just a fraction of a second. Shortly after this picture was taken the storm reached the observatory, forcing operations to close for the night.

See more info at the ESO website.

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Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.



7 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope no one thinks the laser caused the lightning.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I hope no one thinks the laser caused the lightning.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Actually, Ivan3man_at_large is correct. A laser could trigger a lightning strike by creating a path of ionized air.

  4. I captured something like this on video: http://d.ro/laserbolt :-)

  5. I captured something like this on video: http://d.ro/laserbolt :-)

  6. Manuel Macedo says:

    Cool!
    what kind of trigger do you use?
    Do you know you can use a remote ofr long exposures? check this out:astrus.bymac.org
    Works with all major brands os cameras!

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