Lightning strikes cyclone’s eye in spectacular space photo

Powerful, threatening – and yet – spectacularly beautiful. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Italian Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured a picture, from space, of a lightning at the exact moment it was striking the eye of cyclone Bansi. The result is a jaw-dropping photo.

Cyclone Bansi’s gleaming eye as seen from the International Space Station on Jan 12th, 2015 (credit: Samantha Cristoforetti/NASA)

Cyclone Bansi’s gleaming eye as seen from the International Space Station on Jan 12th, 2015 (credit: Samantha Cristoforetti/NASA)

On January 12th, less than a month ago, cyclone Bansi was churning over the Southern Indian Ocean. At the same time, the International Space Station was orbiting east of Madagascar. This created the perfect opportunity for Samantha to capture, from space, a few pictures of the cyclone including the one of the cyclone’s eye gleaming in a stunning lightning blue.

Cyclone Bansi viewed from the International Space Station on Jan 12th, 2015 (credit: Samantha Cristoforetti/NASA)

Cyclone Bansi viewed from the International Space Station on Jan 12th, 2015 (credit: Samantha Cristoforetti/NASA)

In the picture, the grey clouds can be seen spiralling inward towards the centre of the storm, where the air sinks and forms the cloud-free zone known as the ‘eye of the cyclon’. Cyclone Bansi’s eye measured between 30 and 65 kilometres across before hitting what is known as the ‘eyewall’, a ring of towering thunderstorms where the most severe weather conditions occur.

Before the photo was captured, Bansi was just a tropical disturbance – a cluster of showers and thunderstorms. However, while hovering over the Southern Indian Ocean, the right conditions of warm water, moist air, turbulent winds and strong pressure gradients arose and the disturbance quickly transformed into a tropical cyclone, with winds gusting at more than 185 km/h.

Cyclone Bansi eventually reached category 4 strength on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale (which spans from 1 to 5, with wind speeds from 119-153 km/h to over 252 km/h, respectively). Its winds became strong enough to, potentially, tear roofs off homes and uproot trees. Fortunately, Bansi remained over the Indian Ocean, which was good news considering that cyclones of this strength can easily reduce urban areas into uninhabitable zones.

The cyclone developed and stayed over water, where waves as tall as 40 metres formed from all directions and slammed into each other. On land however, this would have been the calmest part of the storm, with the sky mostly clear of clouds, wind and rain. The storm has since weakened and dissipated.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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