The Science Behind This Crazy Volcanic Lightning, Briefly Explained 

It might be majestic and other-worldly, but volcanic lightning like this is pretty common. 

by Sam Blum

Video captured by a few awe-struck travelers and uploaded to YouTube this week depicts the mystical-looking phenomenon of volcanic lightning:

The massive cloud of purple-tinged smoke looks like an other-worldly entity, possibly spawned from the depths of a Tolkien-insprired underworld, but the phenomenon of volcanic lightning is pretty common according to Michael R. Rampino, a biologist at New York University.

Rampino tells Inverse that “small particles in the atmosphere create static electricity,” similar to the kind generated from rubbing an elastic balloon.

“Once that electricity builds up high enough and you get [volcanic] discharge, that’s when you get lightning,” he says. The lightning is generated from the separation of particles, “either after a collision or when a larger particle breaks in two,” according to Geology.

Rampino explains that “whenever you get an explosive eruption,” lightning flashes “are very common.” So, if you ever make it to an active volcano, it’s possible that you might be confronted with an immense visual display such as this one day.