Mount Sakurajima exploded violently to life on Friday evening in southwest Japan, prompting a warning from the country’s meteorological agency to stay away from the volcano. Video of the eruption captured multiple lightning flashes as the volcano flared to life.
The eruption occurred around 7 p.m. local time on Friday, pushing smoke over 7,000 feet into the sky. The Japan Meteorological Agency confirmed that heavy ash and cinder was spewed over half a mile from the crater, and issued a level-three warning which discourages people from entering onto the mountain.
Sakurajima is a highly active volcano on the island of Kyushu. It was once an island itself, but lava flows from a 1914 eruption connected it to a nearby peninsula. Mount Sakurajima experienced around 700 explosive eruptions between January and September in 2015, NHK reports, nearly 200 of which launched smoke over 6,000 feet into the sky.
Volcanic lightning is difficult to capture — it usually only happens in the most intense eruptions, and is often confined to the very beginning of the eruption. Mount Sakurajima, however, is known for its lightning because of its frequent explosive eruptions.
Volcanic lightning is formed in similar circumstances to thunderstorms — negative and positive charges separate in the atmosphere, and lightning is what restores the charges to balance. But scientists are still trying to figure out why the charge separation occurs in volcanoes in the first place. One hypothesis suggests that the particles ejected from the volcano already have a certain charge, which then interact with the charged particles in the atmosphere.