January is volcano awareness month…for Hawaii anyways. This is where our journey begins. Volcanoes can produce large amounts of ash, lava, and even volcanic lightning.
In order for lightning to form there has to be a large charge separation between two masses. If the charge separation is large enough to overcome air resistance it can create a path of ionized air which conducts electricity forming lightning. The way that volcanic lightning is formed is by ash, which begins as a neutral (not positively or negatively charged). creating friction with the air causing it to become charged. A way to better understand this is by rubbing a balloon on a cat and watching the balloon stick to the cat for a small amount of time.
Volcanic lightning can have many different shapes or forms. It can be seen in ball lightning, bolt lightning, sheet lightning, or a combination.
Photos: Oregon State University