Villarrica Volcano Eruption Features Rare Lightning Bursts

March 4, 2015 Updated: March 4, 2015

One of South America’s most active volcanoes, Villarrica, erupted once again on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of locals in Chile.

In a rare display, lightning struck near the erupting mountain, as seen below:

Villarrica, one of South America’s most active volcanoes, prompted the National Emergency Office to issue a red alert and order the early morning evacuations. Photos from local media surfaced, displaying captivating images of the monster mountain glowing in the darkness, lava streaming and heavy smoke clouding the air. No injuries have been reported, however authorities are worried melting snow may trigger mudslides and endanger nearby communities.

The small city of Pucon, population about 22,000 people, sits in the shadow of the 9,000-foot volcano in Chile’s central valley. The area is 400 miles south of Santiago.

Photos show the volcano shooting lava 3,000 feet into the air along with ash.

Rodrigo Alvarez, director of the National Service of Geology and Mining, said people need to stay far away from the erupting mountain.

“This is not a fireworks show,” he said.

So, why does volcano lightning occur?

According to

Scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich managed to create volcanic lightning in a lab, suspending particles of volcanic ash (gathered from sites around the world) in argon gas, then forcing the concoction through a narrow tube and into a tank. The process mimics an eruption, when particles go from a compressed environment under the earth’s surface into the atmosphere. The researchers videotaped their experiments and found that the particles of ash manage to charge each other through friction, just rubbing against each other during the ‘eruption’. When the charged particles enter the tank, energy is discharged, creating tiny lightning bolts.

In nature, those tiny lightning bolts can be huge, making for some spectacular photos of eruptions that look an awful lot like a supervillain’s lair. But in this case, it’s not science fiction, just science friction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.