© Stephen O'Meara
On May 19th, adventure photographer Stephen O'Meara was monitoring an eruption of the Rabaul volcano in Papua, New Guinea, when something happened that, he says, "I'll remember for a very long time. A storm cloud approached the volcano's 2 km plume, and lightning began to arc between the two." He set up his camera in a secure location and recorded the "awesome and blinding" spectacle.

This isn't the first time lightning has been observed around a volcano. Recent examples include Alaska's Mt. Redoubt, Chile's Chaitin volcano and Kilauea in Hawaii. Clouds of water vapor shoot out of these volcanoes in a dusty mixture likened to a "dirty thunderstorm," and lightning emerges from within the turbulent plume.

But O'Meara's photo shows something different. "I observed a placid eruption column apparently interacting with a passing storm center," he says. "It was cloud to cloud lightning." Not much is known about the mechanisms driving volcanic lighting, so his image of this rare interaction may have scientific value.

© Stephen O'MearaI was out photographing the return of bright glow at Kilauea volcano's summit crater (caused by molten rock rising within a growing vent) when I saw the International Space Station slipping into the Earth's shadow just beyond the Southern Cross. The Space Station's trail coincidentally parallels the eruption plume, as do the orientation of Alpha and Beta Centauri (at left), which conveniently point to the Space Station. The great globular star cluster Omega Centauri is the fuzzy "star" at the top of the frame.
UPDATE: On June 3rd, O'Meara took his camera to the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii and saw another bright flash of light in the sky--but this time it wasn't lightning.