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Scientists create volcanic lightning in lab

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Scientists have experimentally generated volcanic lightning in the lab, which could help them better understand volcanic eruptions.

German researchers generated the pressurised mixes of air and particles one would expect to find in volcanic plumes and then rapidly decompressed the artificial plumes to standard atmospheric pressure levels, simulating their rush from the mouths of volcanoes.

They recorded the using a high-speed camera and two antennas that helped monitor radio waves from electrical discharges within the gas.

Volcanic plumes generate electricity when ash particles inside the plumes rub against each other.

"Being able to reproduce lightning under controlled conditions in our experiments means that a rapid progress can be expected in the understanding of this phenomenon," study lead author Corrado Cimarelli, a volcanologist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, told LiveScience.

The research could also shed light on the effects volcanic eruptions have on the landscape, scientists said.

The number of electrical discharges observed in the experiment rose proportionally with the amount of fine ash particles included in the artificial plumes.

This suggests that monitoring lightning over active volcanoes could help detect fine ash from eruptions, as well as the rate at which ash is spewed out, two details that are currently very difficult for researchers to estimate, Cimarelli said.

The study was published in the journal Geology.

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