Electrifying Volcano Eruption Sets Record for Extreme Lightning

Tonga's Hunga Tonga volcano eruption triggered the most intense lightning ever recorded on Earth, with lightning flashes occurring at a rate of 2,615 per minute.

The eruption created a volcanic cloud with concentric rings of lightning that reached a height of 30 km.

Researchers believe that the lightning was generated by superfast energetic waves called gravitational waves, which caused changes in air pressure and turbulence.

This discovery will help assess the risks of lightning and ash clouds to aircraft and further our understanding of explosive volcanism's impact on the Earth system.

Making Lightning

Lightning is generated by particles with positive or negative charges that are formed in turbulent air.

Air acts as an insulator initially, but if enough charge builds up, it can cause a breakdown of the air and allow electricity to travel.

The concentric rings of lightning seen during the Hunga eruption were likely created by superfast energetic waves called gravitational waves, which caused turbulence in the clouds above the volcano.

The eruption went through four phases, with the most lightning observed when the upper umbrella cloud moved away from the volcano and revealed its vent.

Going Through Phases

During the first phase of the eruption, there was no lightning observed, but the volcanic plume rose and fell.

The second phase was the most powerful, with high-velocity ejections of magma, water vapor, and volcanic gases that reached the stratosphere.

This created an enormous umbrella cloud in the stratosphere and a smaller cloud in the tropopause.

The upper cloud reached a height of 40 km and caused gravitational waves that expanded the rings of lightning.

Pushing the Boundaries

The extreme lightning observed during the Hunga eruption pushes the boundaries of our understanding of how explosive volcanism impacts the Earth system.

The discovery will aid in assessing risks to aircraft from lightning and ash clouds.

Researcher Alexa Van Eaton plans to continue studying this phenomenon for further insight.


www.techtimes.com. (June 28, 2023). Virgin Galactic's $450K Space Tour Announcement Sparks Backlash Amid Tragic Titan Incident. www.techtimes.com.
Ars Contributors. (June 28, 2023). Electrifying volcano eruption set off the most extreme lightning detected. arstechnica.com.

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