Volcanic lightning occurs when fragments of propelled ash (including glass, ice, and rock) spark against each other in the violent plume that rises above an erupting volcano.
The First-Century Roman writer Pliny the Younger is credited with recording the earliest-extant account of a so-called ‘dirty thunderstorm’ after witnessing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
“A dreadful black cloud,” Pliny observed in a letter to Tacitus, “was torn by gushing flames and great tongues of fire like much-magnified lightning.”
Photos taken in January 2020 of a similar display near Manila, Philippines when Taal Volcano erupted captured the world’s attention.
The intense gnashing of darkness and light preserved by the images recalls the cataclysmic beauty of The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum, the Romantic artist John Martin’s 1822 painterly recreation of the ancient dirty thunderstorm that Pliny the Younger saw with his own eyes.
Image: A lightning strike over the province of Batangas during the eruption of the Taal volcano in Philippines, January 2020 (Credit: Domcar C Lagto/Pacific Press via Alamy)