An astronaut aboard the International Space Station has captured a spectacular image of a volcano with a 2,300ft-wide crater spewing ash into the atmosphere after a powerful eruption.
The Raikoke Volcano—located on an island in the northwestern Pacific’s Kuril archipelago—has been dormant for roughly a century. But this quiet period came to an abrupt end in the early morning of June 22, when Raikoke blew its top sending a vast ash plume up to 8 miles into the sky, according to the Volcanic Ash Advisories Center (VAAC).
In the picture, you can clearly see how the cloud rises up in a narrow column before coming to a stop when it meets air of similar density.
“What a spectacular image. It reminds me of the classic Sarychev Peak astronaut photograph of an eruption in the Kurils from about ten years ago,” Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Tech, said in a NASA statement.
“The ring of white puffy clouds at the base of the column might be a sign of ambient air being drawn into the column and the condensation of water vapor,” he said. “Or it could be a rising plume from interaction between magma and seawater because Raikoke is a small island and flows likely entered the water.”
Much of the plume is now drifting eastwards over the Bering Sea and authorities are warning aircraft in the region to be careful of volcanic ash. This could pose a danger to aircraft because it contains small pieces of rock and volcanic glass.
Satellite data also indicates that the eruption has spewed out large quantities of gas, namely sulfur dioxide, which may have reached into the stratosphere—the second main layer of Earth’s atmosphere which starts between 4.3 and 12 miles high depending on the location above the planet.
“Radiosonde data from the region suggest that the eruption cloud is mostly in the stratosphere,” Can said. “The persistence of large sulfur dioxide amounts over the last two days also indicates stratospheric injection.”
It is important to closely monitor ash plumes that reach the stratosphere because they have the capacity to stay in the atmosphere for much longer than those which stop at lower altitudes.