You can got a lot of extremely cool pictures out of a volcanic eruption. Giant Exploding Things That Could Kill You are always incredibly photogenic for some reason. But I think the coolest eruption pictures are the ones that involve lightning, such as this picture of the Chaitén Volcano erupting in Chilé.
Actually, I hadn’t thought about it much until I saw this article, and this interesting observation:
“The seismometers were actually picking up lightning strikes,” said McNutt. “I knew that I had to reach out to the physicists studying lightning.”
That’s just cool – lightning produced by the eruption was adding seismic noise with ground strikes.
Volcanic lightning would be a pretty interesting thing to study; the mechanism by which it forms is even less well understood than normal lightning. A possible model here at geology.com. Even more interesting is this article I found from last year, looking at the behavior of volcanic plumes.
A volcanic plume consists of a vertical column of hot gases and dust topped by an umbrella-like structure. A volcanic mesocyclone sets the entire plume rotating, causing it to spawn waterspouts or dust devils and group together the electric charges in the plume to form a sheath of lightning.
So basically, if you don’t get cooked by a pyroclastic flow or burned up by magma or simply nailed in the head by flying debris, don’t start feeling too good about yourself. The atmosphere might just try to kill you anyway.
Gosh, I love volcanoes.