The volcano hurling ash 12 miles high

National Geographic

It may not have done anything for 9000 years, but now Chile’s Chaitén volcano has decided to start erupting it’s doing it big-time. Blowing ash 12 miles up into the sky, it has caused stunning ‘dirty storms’ where the huge dust clouds have turned into ferocious lightning storms. The photos are pretty breathtaking – although I must say I’m glad I don’t live anywhere what seems like a volcano taken out of the apocalypse.

National Geographic It looks stunning, but just how do you get so much lightning at once? Basically, as the billions of ash and dust particles rub together in the sky, static electricity causes some of them to become charged – just like rubbing a balloon on your jumper can make it become statically charged.

These charged ash and dust particles can then trigger huge bolts of lightning, some reaching down to the ground and some staying between the clouds. The result: a dazzling show of light – and of course sound as well.

Map image

Chaitén’s not just making dirty storms – its ash clouds are spreading right over as far as the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s spewing lava out too (although not at a very high rate yet). It’s definitely something to keep an eye on over the next few days.

National Geographic’s done a great interactive detailing everything you could ever want to know about volcanoes – click here.

Earthquakes shaking the world

Chile and central Africa have both seen large earthquakes over the last few days, only weeks after scientists said Mount St Helens was starting to rumble again. However, there is no reason to believe that any of these events are connected, say scientists.

Location of the African quake | Image: BBC News A magnitude 4.5 quake hit Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday, killing at least 39 people and injuring countless others. This region of Africa is actually quite prone to seismic activity, but it has been quiet for the past few years. A magnitude 6.8 quake struck in December 2005.

Location of the Chile quake

Chile also saw a large quake, a magnitude 6.3 one that struck on Monday. Fortunately no casualties or damage have been reported, although there were several landslides.

Click here for a simple guide to how earthquakes happen. Click here for a cool video.

African earthquake | Image: CNN