After sleeping for over 40 years, the Taal volcano in the Philippines woke up at the weekend and shot an ash cloud of at least 10,000 meters into the sky.
And in this threatening cloud, thunder and lightning struck pillars of volcanic ash through the darkness.
The deeply dangerous Taal – at a distance of 100 kilometers from the volcano – created a sparkling, sometimes mesmerizing light show. (In the event of a major eruption, almost 1 million people erupted in Taal's activities.)
Volcanic lightning, as fascinating as it may be, is common, said Sonja Behnke, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who researched and repeated these volcanic phenomena observed volcanic lightning in places like Iceland and Japan.
How Volcanic Lightning Occurs
There are two main steps.
"It's essentially the same reason we get lightning and thunder in storm clouds," added atmospheric scientist Adam Varble, who researches thunderstorms at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "It's the collision of particles." But instead of ash particles, only ice particles collide in storm clouds to generate electrical charges.
. 2 Then the charged particles have to separate into different regions of the ash cloud of a volcano to receive lightning strikes. In the chaotic cloud, this happens naturally when ash particles of different sizes fall down at different speeds and create different zones of charged particles, either positive or negative. (What gives a region of particles a positive or negative charge is the "complicated physics" that is still being investigated, Varble explained.)
But the important point when you have two regions of oppositely charged particles is space Between them there is an electric field that shoots or flows electricity through the air. These are the lightnings that you see streaking through storm clouds or volcanic clouds.
These bright flashes, whether in volcanic clouds or thunderstorms, are powerful and generate between 10 million volts and billion volts, Varble explained. (Toasters usually work with a voltage between 120 and 220 volts.)
Taal certainly caused a lot of lightning. This is probably due to the fact that the cloud has reached the ice-cold atmosphere so high that the water expelled during the eruption turns into small ice particles that also collide and generate static electricity, explained Behnke. This means that a double blow of ash and ice created charged particles.
There may have been a lot of water in Taal's ashy cloud because there was a lake on the volcano, which meant the eruption blew through a lake.
"It appears that volcanoes that interact well with water when erupted will produce more dramatic lighting effects," said Behnke.
For volcanic explorers, volcanic lightning is more than just a natural spectacle. The U.S. Geological Survey is now using lightning to track volcanic eruptions when they occur, Behnke said.
Many outbreaks occur in remote locations and are not directly observed by people. However, a flash of lightning can be seen from satellites, which gives scientists better insight into the continually erupting volcanoes of the planet.