General Question

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

What causes the streaks in this photo?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16548points) April 19th, 2010

In this photo of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that is currently erupting, there are short, parallel streaks visible in the top left hand quadrant of the image, seemingly behind the bolts of lightning. What are these streaks?

My first thought was stars, but for stars to form such streaks the camera’s shutter must be open for several minutes, by which time the lightning would be blurred and faded. It cannot be debris from the volcano either, because they are so perfectly parallel and are exactly the same length, which implies the same velocity and trajectory for all these streaks. I am truly stumped here – can you please help me?

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24 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

They look like meteorites, but unless you reversed the image, or were facing South, they are traveling in the wrong direction. They normally go like all other planetary bodies, east to West.

dpworkin's avatar

Fast moving glowing bits of lava, directional because of the force with which they were ejected?

Sophief's avatar

I have no idea, but what an amazing picture.

JeffVader's avatar

They look like Lava Bombs to me…

jaytkay's avatar

I think they are stars. Lightning doesn’t blur and fade, it’s pretty much instantaneous.

The shutter was left open and everything else was too dark to register until the lightning lit the scene.

erichw1504's avatar

Drunk college students.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@DarkScribe Would meteorites really be so perfectly parallel?

@dpworkin They are sloping up towards the ash cloud, which seems wrong to me.

@Dibley Definitely. I love it.

@JeffVader Aren’t they on the wrong angle to have been ejected from the volcano? I would expect them to be ejected radially, not parallel.

@jaytkay That is quite possible, I guess it is pretty hard to image lightning any other way.

DarkScribe's avatar

@Would meteorites really be so perfectly parallel?

syz's avatar

removed by me

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Honestly, I think it’s most likely scratches on the lens of the camera, for a couple of reasons.

A: All of the objects are going at exactly the same angle. If it were debris, meteorites, or stars, it would be too big of a coincidence for them all to be moving at exactly the same angle.

B: Shooting star movement requires the shutter to be open for an extremely long period of time (hours, not minutes). If the shutter were left open long enough to capture their movement, the volcanic cloud would have moved significantly, and would be very blurry.
Also, having the shutter open long enough to shoot the movement of stars works by slowly picking up very small amounts of light. The sudden bolt of lightning would be too much light too quickly, and the shot would be ruined.

One of my camera lenses has a couple scratches similar to this, and many of the pictures I take with it turn out similar to the photo in question (which is fantastic, btw).

@DarkScribe There was obviously a bit of photoshopping to the color of that photo, I would be surprised if the meteorites and their perfect angles had a bit of help too.

john65pennington's avatar

Did someone say that volcanoes can cause lightning? never heard of that. is there a reference? john

JeffVader's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Most likely they were pretty much ejected vertically, just with a slight anglle, & considering the height they would be falling from, also given the poor aerodynamics of lava bombs, I’d say it’s possible…... although Im no expert.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@DarkScribe Okay, I accept that, but your meteorites show one end to be distinctly brighter than the other.

@syz I was not asking about the lightning, but the streaks in the background. Thanks for the information anyway.

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities If it were stars, they would all be moving exactly the same way, because the Earth is what is moving. Also, as said above, the cloud from when there was no lightning would be extremely faint compared with the lightning flash and the cloud state it illuminated. I doubt it is scratches on the lens, because they are all exactly the same length.
As for the photoshop, could they be stars and a dark image has had a bright overlay with the lightning superimposed on top of it?

@JeffVader Its possible, I’m just not convinced it is likely. Thanks for your input anyway!

JeffVader's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh No worries….. & in all honesty, Im not entirely convinced myself :)

DarkScribe's avatar

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities DarkScribe There was obviously a bit of photoshopping to the color of that photo, I would be surprised if the meteorites and their perfect angles had a bit of help too.

Possibly – but this one isn’t.

I have often seen parallel meteor trails when at sea.

erichw1504's avatar

More importantly: What causes the streaks in my underwear?

CMaz's avatar

Seems like a problem with the “print”

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I think @jaytkay probably got closest to the right answer. Without knowing more about the photographer’s technique it’s hard to say. (@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities could also be correct, and it could be a camera artifact, which would be easier to determine if we had more samples of photographs taken with the same equipment.)

My own expectation, like @jaytkay, is that the shot was a timed exposure in order to capture one or more lightning bolts in the same image. In that case, knowing how long the exposure was would allow you to calculate the distance traveled for whatever is making those lines. That’s why I don’t think they are meteorites or anything traveling with anywhere near that speed.

What I’m seeing is two faint lines, one longer one bisected by the bright bolt of lightning, and one emanating from (and superimposed on the left edge of) the ejecta cloud and traveling down and to the left in the photo. The lines do appear to be parallel.

If one considers that the objects making those tracks or lines were not traveling purely perpendicular to the point of view of the camera, but on trajectories that took them toward or away from the photographer as well as laterally, then the speeds would have been much greater than if they had a lateral motion only in a plane perpendicular to the photographer’s view.

In fact, since there’s no gravitational ‘arc’ to the lines (and if we assume they aren’t artifacts of the lens), I would estimate that these are objects from within the ejecta moving at a very high rate of speed away from the photographer.

With only this photo and no other explanation of technique it’s really impossible to say more, I think.

jaytkay's avatar

Here’s a time exposure of stars moving across the sky

joshgrabs's avatar

I would say over exposed light but that would make no sense since the whole pic would be blurry, i think it may be scratches on the lens because i had a similar problem with an old lens of mine. It caused every picture to have scratches, and in this case “lines”.

Axemusica's avatar

I assume this is the same event? I don’t see any streaks in that photo also, it confirms @jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities response of photoshop use.

also this & this

davidgro's avatar

To me it looks really clear that those are star trails from a long exposure, and the lightning acted as a natural flash which is why the cloud is not blurred much. That said it was certainly photoshopped (The exif says it was “Adobe Photoshop CS Windows”) but it looks like at most the levels were adjusted and of course it was scaled, maybe cropped.

As for “The sudden bolt of lightning would be too much light too quickly, and the shot would be ruined.” – Funny thing, the camera was a FinePix S3Pro, from DP Review : “The S3 Pro’s unique selling point is that it is the only digital SLR to have an extended dynamic range, it achieves this by the use of two interleaved photodiodes” (At the time) This means it can do dim stars and bright clouds at the same time.
And note that the lightning certainly is overexposed, but it’s limited to just the area where the bolts actually are

As for the lack of curvature, it’s a very telephoto lens from very far away, this is a tiny area of the sky. (The same type of shot they use to make the moon fill the frame)

WolfFang's avatar

amazing photo, imma save it now! but I think it would be stars, if not stars for whatever reason, maybe some photographical anomaly within the camera?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@davidgro I think that is pretty much conclusive. Thanks!

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