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Close Encounter with a Gigantic Jet (spaceweatherarchive.com)
358 points by nabilhat 89 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

Two weeks ago I was on a flight into London. While we were coming down through some clouds I was looking out of the window for a clearing when I saw an almost blinding purple flash which was followed by a loud crack. I looked forward with pure panic in my eyes at the airhost who was smiling, he calmly informed me that we had just been struck by lighting. Apparently, it's not uncommon and planes are designed to withstand it. I learnt something new that day.

My gf and I flew between two tiny airports in Costa Rica a couple of years back, a Sansa operated 13 seat Cessna. As we went inland and over forests and volcano we became enveloped by dark clouds, battered by rain. No lightning, but we were jolted up, down, left and right repeatedly. Meanwhile the two crew thought nothing of it, in fact one of them appeared to just be merrily using Snapchat throughout. I took this as a sign that we were in no real danger – if they were having to work hard to control the plane I'd be much more worried! My gf, who was absolutely terrified of the whole thing, didn't quite agree with me...

Later that day, our new accommodation had a printed FAQ in the room including "which of Sansa or NatureAir is the safest for flying domestically?". The answer was "Sansa have the braver pilots".

>My gf and I flew between two tiny airports in Costa Rica a couple of years back, a Sansa operated 13 seat Cessna. As we went inland and over forests and volcano we became enveloped by dark clouds, battered by rain. No lightning, but we were jolted up, down, left and right repeatedly. Meanwhile the two crew thought nothing of it, in fact one of them appeared to just be merrily using Snapchat throughout.

Flying back to IND from SFO mid last year we were in some really rough weather (hands down the worst turbulence I've ever experienced) for 20-25 minutes. It was bad enough reading was a futile attempt so I stowed my kindle in my bag and tried to get a nap, I'm sitting there 3/4 asleep with my chin on my chest and the lady across the aisle asks the lady next to me "oh my god, is he asleep or praying" at which point I looked up and said "I was trying to read but we're bouncing around too much so I thought I'd get a nap".

At that elevation, if the cabin was compromised we'd have all been unconscious in seconds and if we were just damaged enough to crash, I figured I'd worry about being scared as we started to fall out of the sky as worst case we'd have 1-2 minutes before we hit the ground.

The only time I get scared in a plane is take off, once the plane is doing about 3/4 of the speed it needs to, until maybe 5 seconds after the wheels leave the ground I'm absolutely terrified. I don't mind the steep climb, I don't mind the landing, but taking off scares me like nothing else climaxing when you feel the wheels leave the tarmac, my blood goes cold (and I'll even breakout in a cold sweat sometimes) every single time.

That fear has always been there too. The first time I ever flew was in a small 4-seat with my 5th grade teacher. He took all of us in his class up that Saturday that were in scouts and any of our dads that wanted to go. I was absolutely terrified once he started accelerating and losing it, within seconds of wheels off the ground I was like "Look over there! Look at that, wow look at the ground, oh man everything is getting so small, wow! Can you tilt the plane so we can see better?"

I must have been a rocket-sled dummy in a past life or something.

Every time I go through a bad turbulence, I picture myself as the narrator in Fight Club on one of his business trips. I look at whoever I'm with and say "Life insurance pays off triple if you die on a business trip".

Me and my gf were taking a cable car up this mountain from a Swiss ski resort during off-season to go hiking. The weather was pretty bad too, it was the end of the day, so we were the only people taking the cable cars. We rushed over there, because it was something like 16:25 and it was closing at 16:30. The whole ride is about 15 minutes. You might see where this is going. Exactly at 16:30, we're about 3/4 way up by then, all the cable cars stop, and start swinging. They don't normally swing while they're being pulled, if they stop mid-way, then they start to swing. Apparently, this isn't such a rare occurance, but we're not skiiers and this was very unsettling. You just see a long fall onto steep rocks below you and hear the wind howling, all the while the thing (that is hardly bigger than a changing booth) is swinging like a gigantic swinging set. It then started moving again after about 60 seconds, only to stop again after maybe 30 seconds, and then it started and stopped 2-3 more times. It was nerve wracking. I look back to it with a smile, but when the cable car finally arrived at the top we practically flew out of it.

Perhaps stopping to prevent the car banging sideways at the walls when entering at the top. This could be an automatic safety feature. You wrote that the weather was bad, was it windy?

It was, but not especially so. I hadn't considered that, that would make sense.

I had the same thing happen a few years ago - a flash and a fast, loud bang! I must have flown hundreds of times, but it's only happened once in all that time.

As you said though, the crew were completely unphased, even if there were a lot of panicked looks by a lot of passengers, and a few rather panicked shouts from others!

Always look at the flight attendants, if they're calm, you can be too. I was once on a flight into London on bonfire night, as we banked heavily in our approach we got an amazing view of fireworks going off all over the city. However, we then hit an air pocket, possibly from a plane in front of us, and suddenly dropped a considerable distance. I looked up at the attendants immediately and the one nearest me was barely suppressing a scream and gripping a couple of seat backs for dear life.

Ah, that reminds me of a super fun landing in Frankfurt 25 or so years ago.

It was gusty. Really gusty. Belting it down with rain, cross, tail, headwinds, you name it. I’m surprised to this day that they didn’t divert, but can only guess they were on bingo fuel, as we’d been battling a headwind from London.

I’m flying unaccompanied minor, so there’s an attendant in a jump seat sat directly across from me. I’ve flown a lot by this point, and this is by far the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, and even since - and we were on final approach.

I’m looking out of the window, keeping one eye on her, and I kid you not, she gets out her rosary beads and starts praying.

As it happened, her response was apt. As we flared, a cross-tailwind caught us hard and we slammed into the runway at an alarming angle - the wingtip grazes the turf, the plane starts to wheel, skids, they’re thrusting like crazy to get us out of a severe crab, the attendant has her eyes shut and her face locked in a mask of terror, passengers are screaming, and somehow, somehow, they get it under control, before getting onto a taxiway and calmly informing us that the flight will end here, because “that landing was a little difficult and the aircraft took some damage”.

As we deplaned, I look back - the starboard wingtip is crumpled metal, and the tires on the starboard aft gear are just gone.

Years later I trained as a pilot, and came to deeply respect the abilities of the Lufthansa flight crew to rescue that, as I later came to realise, near disaster.

I work with planes and it's not at all uncommon to find lightning damage. In fact, there are generic repairs for particular locations prone to lightning strikes.

I had this same experience a few years ago, accompanied by the worst turbulence I've ever experienced in my life. My friend (who is a charter boat captain and qualified ocean sailing instructor) slept through the whole thing!

The sound followed the flash? How much of a gap was there between them? I would have thought they'd be basically simultaneous if you're inside the lightning bolt.

Remember, the sound isn’t really coming from the tip of the bolt. The majority of it is coming from the super-heated air around the bolt along the whole path.

Yes, so the sound should last a while as bits of it from far up the bolt reach you, but I don't understand why the start of the sound would be delayed.

Human memory isn't perfect, to be fair.

The start was likely quiet enough to not be audible through the airplane walls.

The start of the sound is basically instantaneous.

Source: Have been quite close (tens of meters) to a lightning strike and there was no perceptible lag between lightning and thunder. We were close enough that handheld electronics glitched when it happened.

This is one of those images that elicits 'wow' even on a small screen. Can't imagine how it must have felt to experience this in person. I clicked on the video and it downloaded straight. Such a rarity these days. Not sure about the copyrights but am keeping this video for a really long time :).

I hope someday we learn to make controllable mini-storms. All kinds of interesting things to study thanks to the energy levels.

From wikipedia - "Scientists estimate that a tropical cyclone releases heat energy at the rate of 50 to 200 exajoules (10^18 J) per day, equivalent to about 1 PW (10^15 watt). This rate of energy release is equivalent to 70 times the world energy consumption of humans and 200 times the worldwide electrical generating capacity, or to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes"


Energy has to come from somewhere. It's not like a nuclear reactor where it starts in place. With hurricanes, we're talking about the energy in area of the entire ocean being concentrated.

Better off creating hurricane-proof windmills.

Yup. That's really the only way to take energy out of the ocean. If we could somehow fill the surface of the Atlantic with turbines and wave-energy machines, perhaps we could end destructive tropical storms. But the amount of energy involved is astonishing and difficult to reason about.

Maybe you could use it to power ocean cleanup drones, which could use harvested material to manufacture more cleanup drone hulls.

Not the only way. There’s been research into passively driving deep cold water up got the surface to slow down tropical storms.

At that scale, you're looking at something in the vicinity of a Kardashev Type-I civilization.

The Butterfly Effect comes to mind. What happens if you instead create a cyclone?

Hurricane proof windmills, as someone else mentioned, and lightning catching supercapicitors would help capture all a lot of it. Might be easier than covering large areas of land with solar panels.

I wonder if it would be possible to engineer a stable fixed cyclone of any size from a tiny dust devil to a tornado to a hurricane.

The book "Echopraxia" by Peter Watts has exactly this in it. It's a great read!

Every time I look at fork lightning of any kind, it keeps reminding me of natures version of a depth first search algorithm. If you ever watch a high speed capture of a fork lightning youll see it spray out and as soon as it gets a link to ground, the energy backtracks up that path.

I picture neurons creating new connective paths as similar to this.

Funny because yesterday I read about these jets captured by a high speed camera for the first time in Nature magazine:


The one time in my life I actually want a news article to embed a video, and they make it a download-only .mov link.

The video is not as good as the isolated frames.

Which my iPhone refuses to open because it’s “not on a secure server”

This seems like a major obstacle in the way of space elevators. I would imagine running what amounts to a short-circuit wire from the ionosphere to the ground might be a bit tricky…

I've speculated on this before. @carapace was kind enough to provide a reference showing that exactly this happened on an experiment utilising a 20km space tether deployed from the Space Shuttle. The line literally fried itself due to charge build-up and induced currents.




The common proposed solution there is putting it in a specific bit of ocean in the western equatorial Pacific where there are far fewer chances (now, with climate change who knows) of hurricanes and other storms.

I imagine if we ever have the means to actually construct one though we'll probably also have good super conductors and crazy super capacitors and could probably just build superconductor lightning rods up and down the length of it that dump into super caps which then power the climbers and HVAC.

Could it be used to collect that electricity though I wonder?

Is this the phenomena described in Neal Stephenson's _Atmosphaera Incognita_?


On Reddit somewhere. You'll like it there.


Your link is to a vietnamese site about dogs. I don’t get it...

It's a spambot that reposted this comment from a year ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17709028

I see [flagged][dead] next to the comment. How do you flag spam posts? Do you need a certain amount of karma, karma/comment, or does one need to have their account mod-blessed?

You have to link to the specific comment (by clicking on the date), then the "flag" option should appear.

(If it doesn't, it's probably gated behind a certain amount of karma, like downvoting is.)

500 points as I recall.

@jquery should see the 'flag' link when opening the comment directly.

Thank you, much appreciated.

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