sometimes i want to be a plasma geologist

as you may have seen in the news, Japan's Shinmoedake volcano in mount Kirishima (one of about 20 in that mountain range) has been erupting for the last few days.  although it is supposedly not very dangerous, it is the largest eruption Japan has had in the last 50 years.  there have been some neat high quality videos uploaded here and here, i would highly suggest checking those out.

the most amazing thing though was undoubtedly this photograph: 
(thanks chad)

news sites have captioned this photo with "lightning strikes volcano" but that does not describe what is happening here, the volcano is actually spitting out lightning.  this has been known to happen and has been lightly studied in the past (eruption of Mt. Augustine in Alaska 2006).  here is my best attempt at an explanation:

first let me say that lightning in general is widely a mystery to the sciences of geology and meteorology.  the theories are very basic having to do with charge separation via friction (dust particles rubbing together to create static electricity) these explanations are problematic at best and do not account at all for the larger picture.  they also do not seem to apply to any of the other planets, for example the planet venus which has no water, only smoggy clouds of sulfuric acid.

i realize this could get very lengthy in describing exactly what is currently theorized.. why it is wrong and then what is really going on.. so ill just skip that and tell you what is really happening:

there is a charge difference between what is going on underground versus what is going on in the lower atmosphere (more on this later).  it helps to start thinking in terms of electrical circuits.  Anthony Peratt described lava as being a plasma (a medium containing moving charges) so when an eruption happens it introduces a change in charge and essentially short-circuits the existing electric fields in the air and causes a discharge (lightning).

so why is there electricity in the air and magma? now we need to think in terms of larger circuits. the earth is a charged body moving through another plasma (this time it's outer space) which is a part of the sun's electrical influence called the heliosphere. so, instead of everything being electrically neutral (space, planets and the sun) there is actually a lot going on in this big circuit. our atmosphere acts as buffer between the surface of the earth and space. which is what causes the earth's weather, including thunder storms. and in this example we see the eruption being a buffer between the ionospheric currents and subterranean currents.

now this is where it gets really interesting because we can start speculating on how volcanoes (and probably  earthquakes as well) are dynamically related to our electrical planet.  and that is just frickin amazing.

a thanks to those of you who actually read these kinds of posts.  ill end with one of my favorite quotes from David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill:
“From the smallest particle to the largest galactic formation, a web of electrical circuitry connects and unifies all of nature, organizing galaxies, energizing stars, giving birth to planets and, on our own world, controlling weather and animating biological organisms. There are no isolated islands in an electric universe”.

1 comment:

  1. I am smarter now. and one step closer to joining the clap-on cult!


Thanks for the comments.