Thunder, Lightning and Vog
The Chaiten volcano in Chile continues to erupt, having forced the evacuation of thousands. Chaiten has also produced spectacular displays like this one. Lightning is powered by an excess of electric charge, which occurs in storms but also in volcanic clouds. We learned this in school, but what triggers the discharge? The tracks of lightning bolts resemble the shower of particles from cosmic rays. Since Earth is bathed constantly in cosmic rays, some have suggested that they trigger lightning bolts. If the frightening bursts of thunder should someday shown to result from cosmic rays, it is one more example of how are lives are intertwined with Space.
Our Cassini spacecraft has photographed a huge thunderstorm on Saturn that has raged for five months. Some theories suggest that Saturnian thunderstorms are connected with the mysterious "spokes" seen in the rings. Aided by a network of "amateur" astronomers, Cassini has also observed a wave pattern in the atmosphere. Temperatures vary at different latitudes in a hot-cold pattern. Sometimes the equator is wamer than surrounding latitudes and sometimes it is colder, switching at half-year intervals when the Sun is directly over the equator. Previously we have seen that Saturn's poles are hot spots, with the highest temperatures of the surface. Source of this hot-cold pattern is considered a mystery, but Saturn's interior is an excellent place to seek a Black Hole.
Though Hawaiian shield volcanoes are gentler than Chilean volcanoes, the eruption of Halema'uma'u Crater continues. It has left the nuisance of "Vog," or volcanic smog. Sulfur dioxide regularly issues from Kilauea, but with the eruption it has spread throughout the islands. Neighbours have complained about respiratory ailments. Certain plants, like eucalyptus and Asiatic lilies, are particularly harmed. Our coffee and macadamia nut trees appear unaffected. We are fortunate that our volcanoes are more nuisance than danger.
Volcanoes may be tied to cosmology. As longtime readers of this blog know, internal heat could be product of a tiny Black Hole in Earth's core. Human life exists in a very thin surface between Earth and Space. Cosmic rays rain from the heavens, causing showers of energetic particles in the atmosphere and possibly lightning discharges. Lightning storms have been observed on Jupiter and Saturn. At Chaiten, Earth's internal heat leads to spectacular lightning displays. Space and cosmology are part of our lives whether we like it or not.