Erupting Volcano Captured On Camera From Space
On June 12th, just as the International Space Station was orbiting above Japan, the Sarychev Peak, one of the world's most active volcanoes, came to life, enabling astronauts to take some amazing, never before seen, pictures.
Among the most unique features captured is the 'pileus cloud', a layer of mist or condensing water that sits above the plume of ash, just as the volcano erupts. While volcanologists have known about it, they have never been able to photograph it, since it dissipates shortly after the eruption.
Also caught on tape, is a huge pyroclastic flow. This is the flow of super-hot rock that precedes red-hot lava, and is even more deadly, destroying everything in its path.
The scientists also noticed that as the volcano erupts, the clouds seem to drift away. They are not sure whether it is the impact of the eruption that causes them to scatter away or that they simply evaporate, due to the warmer air from the rising ash. The pictures taken by the astronauts will allow them to observe and determine which of those theories is actually true.
The Sarychev peak is part of an active cluster of islands off of Japan's Hokkaido Island. The June 12th eruption was its first in 20 years, but its impact was felt as high as 5 miles and as wide 1,500 miles on land. While commercial flights were impacted, the astronauts were fine, since the International Space Station orbits the earth from a height of 2,200 miles.