August 2012 — Laser meets lightning

The sky above the Allgäu Public Observatory in southwestern Bavaria lit up by two very different phenomena: one is an example of advanced technology, and the other of nature's dramatic power.

As ESO tested the new Wendelstein laser guide star unit by shooting a powerful laser beam into the atmosphere, one of the region’s intense summer thunderstorms was approaching. With purely coincidental timing this photograph was snapped just as light­ning flashed, resulting in a breathtaking image that looks like a scene from a science fiction movie. 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 (one million million) watts, albeit for just a fraction of a second!


ESO/M. Kornmesser

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