Lightning Storm Generated by Chilean Volcano (Images)

by Ian O'Neill on May 7, 2008

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: Physorg.com, Daily Mail

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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: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

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