The storm below

By Phil Plait | May 19, 2011 7:06 am

I love pictures of the Earth from space. They give us a great perspective on our little planet down here. And sometimes they are simply stunning for their own sake… like this shot of lightning internally illuminating a storm cloud over Brazil:

[Click to 1.21gigawattenate.]

That was taken by astronaut Paolo Nespoli in January 2011 as the Space Station passed overhead. Having lived in several storm-prone areas I’ve seen lightning flash in huge thunderclouds from below, from the side, and even once from above in an airplane (which was awesome and terrifying), but never like this. If it weren’t for the caption on that picture I’d have never guessed what it was. Amazing.

I have to laugh, though: given the language they speak in Brazil, isn’t it funny it looks like a Portuguese Man o’ war?

Image Credit: ESA/NASA


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- Epic lightning storm electrocuting Saturn… for eight months
- Who says clouds screw up observing?
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- Squishy Moonrise seen from space

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (25)

  1. When I saw that headline I was afraid that you had somehow gotten your hands on pictures from my colonoscopy.

    Relieved.

  2. James H.

    It’s 1.21 gigawattenate…21 would just have vaporized the car!

  3. Craig

    My first thought was that it was a picture of a night-time shuttle launch after it was above the clouds. The color of the light would likely be different, though.

  4. Having flown all over the world, and seen many weather pattersn, I can say watching thunderstorms from altitude is one of my favorite things. I am jealous that these guys have an even better vantage point!

  5. Yeah, I would have voted for some sort of food item (cauliflower?) making its way through the gut.

    Really must learn to chew your food.

  6. nancyem

    If I was on the space station, they would have to pry me off the window with a crowbar- that’s where my face would be glued the entire time I was up there. Ah well, one can dream, right?

  7. My search for the American who knows that people in Brazil speak Portuguese instead of Spanish is now over.

  8. MT-LA

    @James H: It might as well be 1.21 jiggawattenate.

  9. Gonçalo Aguiar

    Nice shot!! Nice to know that my country’s name gets to appear in this blog!! Weeeeeee!

    BTW Brazil, specially the Minas Gerais state, is one of the countries where power lines are more difficult to design because the keraunic level is very high along with the ground resistances. They need good ground electrodes in order to put things working as they should. Interesting that even in space we get the idea of how harsh stuff is down there, yet it feels so peaceful up there…

  10. Chris A.

    When I read the title, I thought this one might be about a NSFW postscript to Tim Minchin’s beat poem. :)

  11. Bill

    @Chris A -
    Seeing the tip of the wing of the fairy isn’t enough for you?
    :)

  12. Petrucio

    I like to say we speak Brazilian, because damn it, I just can’t understand a thing when I try to speak Portuguese with someone from Portugal.

  13. @Chris A & Bill, I’d rather see the flowers. :D

  14. Glauco

    I was in a non-stopping flight from Brasilia to Curitiba earlier this year and when I was over Sao Paulo, I saw several clouds like this one:
    http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficheiro:Nuvem_cogumelo_originada_de_uma_tempestade_em_Frederico_Westphalen-_RS.jpg

    At 10km or 30000 ft from the ground they are beautiful and scary. I got “lucky” when I saw one. Lucky at a safe distance.

  15. Chris A.

    @Petrucio (#13):
    Do you suppose the creationists get their knickers in a twist when people speak of the evolution of language? Based on your experience, one might argue that Brazilian Portuguese is on the cusp of becoming a new “species,” linguistically speaking.

  16. Glauco

    Oops, missed this: all of those clouds were striking huge amount of lightnings, with a pretty close view to that picture from ISS.

  17. I would have guessed this was a nebula!

  18. Petrucio

    @Chris A. (#16):
    I don’t think they are intellectually honest enough to realize there’s a problem in this. I’m not sure pt-br should yet be considered a new ‘species’, since we can still succesfully ‘mate’ with the Portuguese, although with considerable effort. But when you install a program, you don’t see en-us and en-uk listed, despite their differences, but you do see pt-pt and pt-br…

    Anywhere there’s inheritance and variation there will be evolution, be it genetics, memetics, linguistics (a part of memetics), an evolutionary algorithm, or wherever.

  19. JC

    @Petrucio (#19) For what it’s worth, I often see en-US and en-GB in localization libraries.

  20. Petrucio

    @JC (#20):
    I agree, there are those, but it’s not like every program you install, like Firefox, Google Earth, or Windows itself, and there’s a en-GB option.

  21. Nuno

    @Petrucio
    The written language is more similar between between pt-PT and pt-BR than for en-US and en-GB (color and colour, for example).
    But it’s true there are big phonetic differences in the pronunciation of the same words, many words that are only used by one population or the other (a lot of that technical words) and some words that have different meanings.
    On the other hand, being from Portugal, I did feel the same trying to understand a native from the Azores islands, and it’s the same country (and the same language). I’m sure there are parts in Brasil also known for it’s thick pronunciations…

  22. Wzrd1

    Now, if they ONLY had an x-ray and gamma detector aimed at the same spot.
    I STILL remember scientists being shocked by detecting x-rays and gamma from mere, mortal thunderstorms…
    And sprite and elf formation being disregarded, until many photographs were exhibited. Such phenomena being ONLY considered possible previously generated ONLY by nuclear weapons detonating.
    One just LOVES when one actually LOOKS, rather than ASSUMES. It’s all so, scientific and all! ;)
    More importantly, one MUST love that heretic scientist that actually DOES look, rather than assume, based upon “conventional wisdom”. Who knows? One of those maniacs might give a final clue that reveals grand unified theory!

  23. Wzrd1

    For those discussing Portuguese dialects spoken throughout the world, you’re not alone.
    I have a good friend from Saudi, who, upon arriving in Qatar, had quite a bit of linguistic adjustment to make.
    Now, get a map, get a chuckle.
    THEN, consider that I’m in Pennsylvania, yet have trouble understanding the American English spoken by folks in West Virginia, up in the mountains…
    Linguistic drift is nothing new. It’s been around ever since language was developed and people moved.

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