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.

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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.

Volcano discovered in Antarctica

It’s only days since Mount St. Helen’s started showing signs of activity again, but now scientists have discovered another surprising volcano.

Emperor penguins with their chicks | Image: National GeographicAntarctica: land of ice, snow and penguins. Not steam, lava and boiling rocks, right? Well it may be icy now, but in one area of the continent 2000 years ago a volcano spewed ash and hot gases up through the ice, 12km into the air, creating a massive torrent of water in the process. In fact, it is thought to still be active now, causing some of the Antarctic ice sheet to melt (though only a minimal amount compared to climate change factors).

How did the scientists (from the British Antarctic Survey) discover this volcano? When the eruption took place ash was scattered over a large area, and now that it has been covered with centuries of snow, radar is reflected more by the layer of ash than the ice above and below it.

The volcano erupted under what is now the Hudson Mountain range | Image: BBCSo remember that Antarctica’s not just about snow and penguins, cool as they are. 

Mount St Helens starts rumbling again

Mt St Helens | Image: National Geographic/AP After a three year period of being dormant, Mount St. Helens is again showing signs of seismic activity, although scientists say there’s absolutely nothing to worry about – yet.

Several small tremors (just under 3.0 magnitude) were recorded, as well as steam coming from the top of the volcano, which is well remembered for its cataclysmic eruption in 1980 (video), which killed 57 people and flattened 230 square miles of forest.

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So what’s causing this new activity? Scientists believe it is because the lava under the volcano is shifting around, possibly squeezing water out and causing slight tremors. Will it erupt again? It will without doubt one day, but it is still highly unlikely at the moment.