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MUST SEE: Surreal Pictures of a Different Kind of Lightning

Typically when we think of lightning, it goes hand and hand with thunderstorms -- Not this time! Remarkable images are coming out of Chile en masse from a volcanic eruption that's causing some jaw-dropping lightning.

Fire in the Sky

I think this speaks for itself:

(Credit to the AP on the photo)

Now no, this isn't the rapture a few weeks too late. (At least I don't think so!) But it is a fascinating phenomenon that we sometimes see during a massive volcanic eruption. What causes these lightning bolts to streak across the sky over the volcano? Well, it's actually the eruption itself.

How it works

When a Volcano erupts, it's shooting millions of super-heated ash particles into the sky at a great speed. Naturally, these particles are carried high into the sky because:

  • a) they're traveling fast
  • b) they're small
  • c) they're hot

These fine, hot, ash particles can rise to great heights thousands of feet into the atmosphere and travel for thousands of miles. In this latest eruption in Chile, we're finding that the particles have risen at least 8 miles into the sky and are already approaching the Atlantic Ocean.

So to explain why a volcano would cause lightning to strike, we need to know how lightning typically forms. In a thunderstorm, fast moving currents of air cause collisions of particles within a cloud - causing some particles to become positively or negatively charged. When these charges become separated, the difference between the charges becomes creates an electrical difference - and that energy is released as lightning. It's actually nearly the same in an eruption!

(Credit to ScienceBlogs.com for the figure)

As you can see in the Figure above, the when ash is released into the sky above - there is no charge on any of the particles involved. After fast traveling ash causes high speed collisions, some charge starts to form on some of the particles. With these hot, high speed ash - the difference between charges eventually just becomes too great - and some vivid lightning is formed, producing pictures like this: 

(Credit to Reuters for the photo)

Just to clarify, these are not thunderstorms that you're looking at in these images. This is lightning within these ash clouds, creating a spectacular light show - no rain and no hail involved.

Something really amazing that we're able to watch from afar, thankfully not in our own backyard.

That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed the photos!

-TB

By: Tim Buckley