Chile's Puyehue volcano erupted on Sunday June 5, 2011, after a series of earthquakes, and later put on an unbelievable show – captured in this image – that no man could have watched in the flesh. It took a minutes-long exposure to create the photograph. This long exposure allowed the individual bolts of lightning to appear all at once in the image, while the rotation of the earth makes the stars on the left appear as streaks.
In this next image, a plume of boiling hot ash is lit by lightning. National Geographic's Daily News gallery put the series of images together, and their volcanic seismologist Steve McNutt explained that there could be three types of volcanic lightning: "Large, spectacular "natural fireworks" sometimes accompany eruptions, along with an intermediate type, which shoots up from a volcano's vents and reaches lengths of about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers), and finally bolts that can be as short as about three feet (one meter) long and last just a few milliseconds."
Lightning and thunder are two of mother nature's least understood weather phenomena since they can't easily be recorded, as a hurricane can be with aircraft. Volcanic lightning is even less understood but is one of nature's most spectacular sights. Thanks to the work of talented photographers, we get to see it from the safety of our armchairs.
A special thank you to National Geographic's Daily News section for permitting the use of these images. There are many more in their gallery, linked to above.