Front-row seats to a volcano eruption are hard to come by, but as-tronauts aboard the International Space Station, albeit 400km away, got the best seat in the house last Saturday.
The volcano Raikoke sits on the Kuril Islands, an archipelago of volcanic peaks that lies between Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan's Hokkaido Island. This volcano rarely erupts, and it's very long dormant period ended on June 22. The largely dormant volcano erupted for the first time in almost 100 years at 4 a.m. local time (6 p.m. GMT on June 21), sending a cloud of thick volcanic plumes 8 to 10 miles (13 to 17 kilometers) above sea level, according to the European Space Agency, whose Copernicus Sentinel satellite imaged the eruption from orbit. Before that, an eruption was recorded in 1778.
An image from the Suomi NPP weather satellite shows the Raikoke volcano from space a few hours after the eruption began.
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Astronauts aboard the ISS captured this frame as a volcanic plume rose in a narrow column before spreading into an umbrella shape. That is the area where the density of the plume and the surrounding air equalize and the plume stops rising.
Plumes of volcanic smoke can be seen rising between 8 and 10 miles into the skies while a ring of clouds, seemingly formed out of water vapor, surround the volcano.
"What a spectacular image", Simon Carn, a volcanologist at Michigan Technological University, said in the NASA press release. The white ring of clouds near the plume's base are thought to be water vapor. The thick plume was carried to the east by a storm in the North Pacific, and astronauts on the ISS, and orbiting satellites, watched it all happen. This could pose a danger to aircraft because it contains small pieces of rock and volcanic glass.
Carn indicated that the toxic gas may have reached the stratosphere, Earth's second layer of the atmosphere.