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© Imagine China / Caters News
The mushroom-like cloud baffled residents when it appeared over the Chinese capital last Thursday
To the untrained eye, it could have been the first signal of the end of the world as nuclear war broke out.

But instead of anything sinister, the giant mushroom cloud spotted in the skies over the Chinese capital last week was simply a brilliant showcase of the wonder of nature.

The huge cloud, which appeared on Thursday, gradually took the shape of an explosion from an atomic bomb.

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© Imagine China / Caters News
The cloud - the base of which alone spanned several miles - swallowed up the skyline
But instead of being a danger to residents or marking imminent Armageddon the phenomenon was thought to be completely harmless.

The formation took just over an hour and was followed by a further spectacle of lightning strikes.

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© Imagine China / Caters News
A passing passenger jet is dwarfed by the giant cumulonimbus cloud
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© Imagine China / Caters News
Escape: the plane emerges from flying past the towering cloud
And as well as pictures of the event, the cloud was also captured on a number of videos filmed by residents in the city.

The formation is thought to have been a giant cumulonimbus - a towering vertical cloud which is typically associated with thunderstorms.

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© Imagine China / Caters News
A close-up shot of the plane as it flies past the cumulonimbus cloud which filled the sky over Beijing last week
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© Imagine China / Caters News
A beautiful red sky also accompanied the rare natural phenomenon
Even the smallest of cumulonimbus clouds dwarf other cloud types, as the base of them can be several miles across.

And the giant formation in Beijing was no exception - with the huge anvil shape dominating the skyline over the city.