On December 3, Mount Etna’s Voragine crater erupted for the first time in two years, turning Sicily’s east coast into a brilliant display of fire and ash. Local residents watched as the crater sent molten magma into the sky, knowing that their towns were safe due to protective ditches and concrete dams that would divert lava flows away from populated areas. The eruption didn’t produce enough lava to warrant major concerns, but it did make for an incredible sight, a series of amazing photographs, and streets dusted with volcanic ash.

The eruption isn’t particularly newsworthy on its own. Mt. Etna is the world’s tallest volcano and has been active – that is, erupting on a fairly regular basis – for an estimated 2.5 million years. Even so, volcanic activity has a kind of magical quality that draws spectators in, and the Voragine eruption this week is no exception. Because the action took place in the evening, the fiery magma and ash emissions made for a unique sight, and one that captured the attention of many a photographer. Twitter is jumping with activity on the #Etna hashtag; even NASA has released stunning images of the volcanic eruption as it appeared from the Terra satellite, showing a long ash plume leading to the southeast.

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Shortly after the eruption occurred, volcanic ash rose into the sky in an enormous plume, creating an amazing scene of volcanic lightning, which is a mysterious event tied to the most powerful of eruptions. The theory behind the ‘lightning’ is that ash particles rub together inside the cloudy plume and cause a buildup of electrical charges that trigger a lightning strike. No matter the science behind it, this event is just one more way for Mother Nature to show off her awe-inspiring capabilities.

Volcano Discovery reports the crater, one of five on the volcano, has been showing signs of activity for some time, with volcanic tremors dating back to midsummer and periodic emissions of ash occurring more frequently in recent weeks. Essentially, it was known that the crater would likely erupt, but the timing and intensity of the eruption remained a mystery. Ultimately, the eruption was short-lived and the giant ashy plume has since dissipated to a thin wisp.

Via The Guardian

Lead image video screengrab; others via NASA