Volcanic Plume

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured this dramatic image of Raikoke Volcano’s eruption in late June. This uninhabited Pacific Island is part of the Kuril Islands off mainland Russia. The hot plume of ash and volcanic gas rose until its density matched that of the surrounding air, at which point it could only expand horizontally. This is why the plume appears to have such a flat top. It’s similar to the cumulonimbus clouds we associate with severe thunderstorms. Scientists speculate that the white ring around the plume’s base might be water vapor condensed from ambient air pulled in to the plume’s base or a side-effect of magma flowing into the surrounding sea. (Image credit: NASA; via NASA Earth Observatory)

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