Before science, the speed of lighting that complied with a cracked of thunder to be the will of Greek gods or a violent outcropping of animism. Now we understand a bit an ext about lightning. We recognize that it can be hotter than the surface ar of ours Sun; we know that it can absolutely to win in the same ar twice; and also we recognize that once it hits sand, it can create wonderful art. And also we know human being can mistake that arts for a pole in the sand.

You may have seen the photo above making its rounds on the Internet. Spotted in multiple places on Reddit, the photo was just titled “What happens as soon as lightning strikes sand.”

My B.S. Detector go off. The looked too exceptional to it is in true. It to be impossibly stable and the spires on optimal looked curiously favor the wet sand I supplied to make odd sand castles together a boy. For this reason what is this thing?

Incredibly, lightning can and also does in fact produce something amazing when it hits sand, but the conditions have to be perfect. When it access time a sandy beach high in silica or quartz and the temperature goes beyond 1800 levels Celsius, the lighting deserve to fuse the sand into silica glass. The blast that a exchange rate Joules radiates through the ground do fulgurite — hollow, glass-lined tubes v a sandy outside. Petrified lightning.

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When the lightning perfect strikes the sand, the branches with it choose the root mechanism of a tree to do this beautiful anomaly. But that simple fact is crucial to gaining to the root of the famous photo: The lightning creates a pipe of glass with the ground, not above it. You can actually watch the affect hole when it wake up in rock.

How can so-called “petrified lightning” ever look prefer the photo found on Reddit? despite fulgurite is made below the ground, it does have actually a means to get over it: erosion. Because glass can resist much of what mother Nature throws at it, a piece of petrified lightning can stay listed below ground because that decades, centuries even. In time, the sand over eventually shifts to disclose the tubes, which still stand the test of stinging sand and blowing wind.

Fulgurite is always a rarely find, for this reason specimens favor the photo over (and these less believable ones) room awesome avenues to glimpse nature’s raw power. They even have clinical value. Just a few months ago, chemists provided gas trapped in fulgurite balloon to recognize the flora of old deserts. But even though the constant push that erosion deserve to exposure this underground wonders, they space still fragile, requiring careful excavation come unearth a whole specimen there is no breaking it.

This brings united state all the means back to the viral photo. It’s bogus. First, the photograph supposedly reflects a specimen the fulgurite that looks nothing like any kind of of the various other myriad, cataloged examples that you have the right to easy uncover on Google. Second, once petrified lightning is exposed by erosion, it is in a relatively calm area (they are breakable after all). T

he viral picture is top top the leaf of a beach v foot traffic and a tide. That would never ever make it come that size without having a team of geologists conveniently excavate the in prior of tan swimmers because that the shot. Third, looking again at all the other instances of fulgurite specimens (that the looks nothing like), the object in the famous photo has actually obviously been tampered with. The spires ~ above the height of the were placed there afterwards.

Even if it were fulgurite underneath, the extra weight would certainly surely topple or break it. That’s the best-case scenario: one amazing item of petrified lightning with wet sand dripped on it by playful beachgoers. Yet the most most likely scenario is the this isn’t what happens once lightning strikes sand in ~ all. Nothing around the photograph is consistent with the currently understood phenomenon.

On Reddit, wherein the snapshot was very first picked up, the first commenter pond it:

As someone who lives near the beach, this is a stick grounding in the sand had actually wet drippy sand progressively dripped/poured on it.

Currently circling the web is a piece of positioned driftwood through some sloppy sand castles on it. Nature provides us with truly remarkable images. This is a sunset on Mars! This is what happens as soon as a helminth fungus replaces all the tissue of a tarantula! but nature’s ability to astound has actually us jumping in ~ every weirdness no matter its clinical validity. Every time we gain it wrong, it's a missed chance for education. As soon as lightning strikes sand, the can develop something beautiful, however not this famous photo. So be careful what friend retweet.

UPDATE: The viral photograph is now shown to have nothing to do with lightning.

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As other Scientific American blogger Glendon Mellow has actually uncovered, the initial photo appears to come native an artist who specializes in make sandcastles. The viral photo is what happens once you make an interesting castle out of sand, not when lightning access time it.