In addition to two months of temperatures over 35℃, Japan has recently been hit with a spate of lightning storms. In fact, when writing a previous story my building was hit by lightning knocking out my computer and forcing a rewrite. The son of a…

Anyway, with all this lightning around and pretty much the entire population carrying cameras built into their phones, a person’s natural inclination is to try and take a picture of a bolt.

One person though was not only lucky enough to actually be able to catch a bolt in a photo, but found something far stranger.

If you’re jaded like me you’d probably just assume this is a Photoshop job.  But for the sake of science and wonder let’s explore some other possibilities.

I once saw something like this before where a beam of light was shining after a bolt of lightning hit the ground.  Afterwards I heard on the news that a gas main was hit and exploded.  In that case though the light wasn’t a perfectly straight pillar like that.

The other possibility is that this is a lens flare. Lens flares are those little spots or lines that appear in pictures or video when the light source is too strong.  Lightning could certainly be strong enough to cause that, but in that case the buildings wouldn’t be in front of the beam since the flare occurs inside of the camera.

There is a natural phenomenon called light pillars that are caused by light reflecting from ice crystals but given the heat these days you’d be hard pressed to find enough ice crystals in the air to cause a light pillar that big and clear.

So this leaves us with the more fringe possibilities.  Either this is the laser beam of Laputa: Castle in the Sky or one of the following landing on Earth: Mega Man, Terminator, or one of those things from War of the Worlds.

Actually Tama-chan from Hyokan Sunday has a more reasonable explanation.  Usually when we see pictures of lightning, they were taken using special filters and with a longer exposure time.  This way you can see the lightning clearly in the split second it strikes down its jagged path towards Earth.

Trying to catch lightning with a normal camera in a normal fashion is nearly impossible.  In fact you’re probably more likely to get hit by lightning than to take a normal picture of it.  However, it can happen, and when it does this is what it looks like.

The “pillar of light” is actually just a kind of smearing of light on the image caused by the intense light of the bolt and the minute shaking of the photographer’s hand.  So if you want to take pictures of lightning Tama-chan recommends you use a long exposure time and set the camera down while taking the photo. You could also apply this handy guide for shooting fireworks.

Source: Twitter and Twitter via Hyokan Sunday (Japanese)

▼A closer look.

Someone else’s lucky shot.