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The spikes on the bottom are the support wires for the staging tower vaporizing a bit faster than the atmosphere.

Something to do with the electromagnetic heating of the wire being quicker than the energy capture and incandescence of the air?

Right, the wires are more opaque in every part of the spectrum compared to air, so they soak up energy a lot faster.

Ah. I suppose being a conductor in normal conditions isn't a factor in this situation (plasma is plasma is plasma). Opacity being the main factor in heating makes sense.

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