Lightning Storm Generated by Chilean Volcano (Images)

by Ian O'Neill on May 7, 2008

Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

The Chaiten volcano erupting during storms in the middle of the night (Daily Mail - UK Newspaper)
It could be the scene from a movie: huge plumes of ash and gas rising during a ferocious volcanic eruption, sparking off a dazzling lightning storm; lightning bolts thundering to life inside and out of the hot cloud. However, this is the reality down on the ground for the people living near the Chaiten Volcano, southern Chile, who have been evacuated since the volcano erupted on Friday. Activity continues to increase, producing these terrifying, yet mesmerizing scenes…

Bolts of lightning erupt as the plume rises (Daily Mail/UPI/Carlos Gutierrez)

Lightning can happen as a result of a volcanic eruption. As the hot ash rises through the cooler atmosphere, transfer of charge occurs. This excess of electrons within the cloud makes it act like a capacitor, and should the conditions be correct, huge electrical discharges may be observed as bolts of lightning during volcanic eruptions. It seems that the Chaiten volcano’s recent activity has created the perfect conditions for such a show, allowing photographers in the region to capture some stunning images.

The eruption as viewed from orbit, probably from the ISS (Daily Mail)

I actually saw the picture shown at the top of this article in a double page spread in today’s edition of the UK’s Daily Mail. At first I couldn’t work out what I was seeing but on reading the caption I soon realized it was connected with the recent eruption in Chile. Fortunately the Daily Mail also posted the article on their website, giving me the opportunity to share these incredible images on the Universe Today.

The eruption looms (AP)

This region of South America has some very active plate tectonics and has been dubbed “Andean Arc” region of Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Columbia containing around 200 to 300 volcanoes. Volcanologists are highly concerned as many of these volcanoes are located in densely populated areas, so they are studying the Chaiten eruption very carefully. The small town of Chaiten is being threatened by this particular eruption, but fortunately the surrounding area is otherwise unpopulated.

Sources:, Daily Mail


[Follow me on Twitter (@astroengine)]

[Check out my space blog:]

[Check out my radio show: Astroengine Live!]

Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog:, be sure to check it out!

alphonso richardson May 9, 2008 at 4:30 AM

Absolutely stunning pictures
(Though probably not so great for anyone living near there………)

sanchu fish May 9, 2008 at 9:31 AM

AWESOME PHOTO, superb to be alive in a time when this can be shared with the world

hiro May 9, 2008 at 1:29 PM

Thanks. I think it looks like a huge spaceship enters the Earth’s atmosphere in some sf movie.

Angolmois May 9, 2008 at 3:07 PM

I see a deliverate attempt to deflect solar radiation.

Sheila May 9, 2008 at 7:37 PM

I saw this picture on CNN the other day and just HAD to share this with my family. I do see the big angry elephant! We also see two other things, but the elephant is the best one. The picture also loooks like a big angry gorilla in profile on feet and knuckles, facing left. The second thing that we see is a skull looking at a tornado (quite evil looking if I do say so myself)- the trunk in the picture would be the tornado- the right side of the picture would be where the skull is, in left profile… the skull’s forehead leads to a brow ridge, then lit eyes under the ridge. It then proceeds to the concavity where the nose would be, then there is a sllight forward jut of the top jaw. This is where the teeth begin, and these are lit too. then the skull ends with an amazingly accurate jawbone. Just thought I’d share that with y’all. Thanks elephant seer!

Richard Lalancette May 10, 2008 at 8:21 AM

Amazing show from Mother Nature.
Great photos too!


JohnnyZ May 13, 2008 at 2:17 PM

Nice hostbuster reset for the win ;)

Awesome pic.

Peter Beckman May 13, 2008 at 7:51 PM

Anybody have a link to purchase this picture for framing?


aleju May 16, 2008 at 5:49 AM

the picture was is propierty of Reuters, if you go to and search for “chaiten” you will find this picture with a link to buy it

aLeKi May 23, 2008 at 7:56 AM

That is one beautiful picture.

Juan Ciga May 25, 2008 at 8:28 PM

Ian, please correct your article there is no country in South Amercia named Columbia, there is Colombia though, I am sure you ment that

michelle June 6, 2008 at 4:18 PM

awsome it does look like an angry elephant….huh i wonder what the lightning bolts r doing in 1 place…did u c that????

octavio June 14, 2008 at 6:11 AM

hiho guys!
im from Esquel, Argentina (its a small city located like 100km from Chaiten Volcano)
click next link to see the entire gallery of the lightning storm over the volcano:

PD: can you see the faces formed in the ash clouds?
its scary lol xD


mish July 27, 2008 at 8:37 AM

to mail

Maud August 24, 2008 at 8:47 PM

This is one of the most AWESOME photos I have ever seen in my entire life. WOW!

Delgado October 20, 2008 at 12:21 PM

Great Pix… Thats life in LatinAmerica just AWESOME!!!


How to Get Six Pack Fast April 15, 2009 at 8:55 AM

I noticed that this is not the first time at all that you write about this topic. Why have you chosen it again?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: