Saturday, May 06, 2006

Can a volcano eruption produce lightning?

During an explosive volcanic eruption, hot lava and bits of rock pour out into the open air. What's more, hot gases shoot up into the air. The most abundant gas in most eruptions is water vapor, which rapidly cools and condenses to form an ashy cloud.

This cloud has a lot of energy -- partly from the explosion -- and partly from the hot lava and rock that rapidly lose their heat to the air. This energy causes strong updrafts -- much like those in a thunderstorm. Millions of tiny particles of ash produce static electricity as they collide and fragment in the volcanic cloud. The resulting buildup of static electricity can produce lightning.

But not all volcanic eruptions produce lightning. For example, Hawaiian volcanoes erupt with a quiet, steady outflow of lava.

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