Mexico’s Volcán de Colima has been erupting rather spectacularly as of late. This particular mountain has had a long history of violent explosivity, but in the last few years, this stratovolcano has been picking up the pace somewhat by exhibiting near-continuous eruptive activity.
Thankfully, the volcano is being permanently monitored by scientists, emergency services, and webcams. It’s also caught the eye of photographer Sergio Tapiro Velasco, who managed to capture this unbelievably stunning image of volcanic lightning leaping forth from the tip of a plume of ash.
Volcanic lightning is a phenomenon that has yet to be definitively explained. Conventional lightning appears when a layer of warm air mixes with a layer of colder air, normally within clouds. This creates an updraft, and sinking ice crystals rub up against rising water droplets: This tends to produce an electrostatic disequilibrium, with the upper segment of the cloud having a positive electric charge and the lower segment having a negative one.
For a while, the insulating capacity of the air stops the charge imbalance from correcting itself. When the charge builds up to a certain level, however, the insulation breaks down as a flash of lightning appears, balancing out the charge in the air, albeit temporarily.
It's thought that a similar mechanism happens in a volcanic cloud, with both ash particles and ice crystals involved, depending on where in the eruption column you are.
If you want to see some volcanic lightning for yourself, we’d suggest going to Japan’s Sakurajima, where you can see it several times a month in some instances.