See Inside August 2011

What Is It?

Exploding with lightning

Carlos Gutierrez Reuters

The eruption at the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle Volcanic Complex, a chain of volcanoes in Chile, spewed ash clouds up to 45,000 feet into the air in early June. Volcanic ash consists of pieces of rock, glass and other minerals. A plume also carries static electricity—the separation of positive and negative charges—so “these large ash clouds from eruptions like Puyehue-Cordón Caulle can generate their own lightning,” says Erik Klemetti, assistant professor of geosciences at Denison University. The plume from the eruption—the volcanoes’ first in more than two decades—was so great it was seen from space and spread as far as Tasmania.

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