In a scene no human could have witnessed, an apocalyptic agglommeration of lightning bolts illuminates an ash cloud above Chile's Puyehue volcano (map) on Sunday.
The minutes-long exposure shows individual bolts as if they'd all occurred at the same moment and, due to the Earth's rotation, renders stars (left) as streaks. Lightning to the right of the ash cloud appears to have illuminated nearby clouds—hence the apparent absence of stars on that side of the picture.
After an ominous series of earthquakes Saturday morning, the volcano erupted that afternoon, convincing authorities to evacuate some 3,500 area residents. Eruptions over the course of the weekend resulted in heavy ashfalls, including in Argentine towns 60 miles (a hundred kilometers) away.
—With reporting by Christine Dell'Amore
Photograph by Francisco Negroni, Agenci Uno/European Pressphoto Agency
A Lord of the Rings-worthy plume rises roughly six miles (ten kilometers) above Chile's Puyehue volcano (map) Sunday. As of Monday, activity at the volcano appeared to have tapered off, according to Telam, Argentina's government news agency.
Even so, danger remains. In a statement on website of the regional government of Los Rios, Chile, for example, Governor Juan Andrés Varas warned that ash and potentially poisonous volcanic gases are slowly rolling toward a nearby valley. "Fortunately, the valley doesn't drop abruptly, so we have time to evacuate," Varas was quoted as saying by CNN.
Workers bulldozers volcanic ash from Chile's Puyehue volcano (map), in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina on Sunday. The resort town was forced to close its airport due to the weekend eruption.
Shifting winds on Sunday sent more ash raining down on neighboring Chile.
"The situation is very complicated," said Santiago Rozas, mayor of Lago Ranco, a town about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of the eruption, according to the AP. "The shift means that we will have a rain of ash, with damage for the population and a threat to smallholder farming."
A volcanic lightning storm isn't "unlike a regular old thunderstorm," Martin Uman, a lightning expert at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told National Geographic News in 2010.
The same ingredients are present: water droplets, ice, and possibly hail—all interacting with each other and with particles, in this case ash from the eruptions, to cause electrical charging, Uman said. (See pictures of a volcanic lightning storm in Iceland.)
Photograph by Ivan Alvarado, Reuters
Illuminated and electrified by lightning, a roiling ash and gas plume rises over Chile's Puyehue volcano (map) Sunday.
There may be as many as three distinct types of volcanic lightning, volcanic seismologist Steve McNutt told National Geographic News in 2010.
Large, spectacular "natural fireworks" sometimes accompany eruptions, along with an intermediate type, which shoots up from a volcano's vents and reaches lengths of about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers), and finally bolts that can be as short as about three feet (one meter) long and last just a few milliseconds.
Photograph by Daniel Basualto, European Pressphoto Agency