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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

BA Video: An Electrifying Volcano

By Phil Plait

In the Mexican state of Colima there lies an active volcano. Actually, Mexico is lousy with volcanoes, but this one has been doing more than its share of rumbling and grumbling lately.

Photographer César Cantú went to the Colima volcano to photograph it recently, and what he got was way more than he hoped for: huge lightning discharges blasting through the ash cloud! This type of event is well-known, but not terribly well-understood. I do love a scientific mystery, which is why this event (and a time-lapse Cantú made) is the subject of this week’s Bad Astronomy Video.

A funny note, too: The other day, on Twitter a friend of mine posted a picture of the lightning in the ash cloud. But it was credited to someone else: Hernando Rivera Cervantes! I immediately wondered if there was a bit of picture pilfering going on, so I sent a note to Cantú via his Facebook page. He replied back almost immediately: Cervantes is a fellow photographer, and was in fact standing next to Cantú taking pictures at the same time.

It wasn’t plagiarism. It was essentially the same photo taken by two different people! I wasn’t expecting that. But I’m glad no one was trying to get credit for Cantú’s photo.

Speaking of which, I’ll soon be back at Kilauea in Hawaii, very near the lip of the Halema’uma’u vent. While I certainly don’t think we’ll see lightning (it’s venting sulfur dioxide, not ash), I can hope to take some more shots of the lava pit illuminating the plume. Volcanoes don't have to be disastrously dramatic to be exceptionally enthralling.

Correction, April 20, 2015: This post originally misstated that Halema'uma'u was on Mauna Kea. It's on Kilauea. 

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