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Eruption of Shinmoedake Volcano

Mount Shinmoedake, part of the Kirishima range, has dramatically erupted on the island of Kyūshū in southern Japan, after a gap of 52 years. The eruption started on January 26, 2011 at 7:30 AM and it is said to be the strongest eruption since 1959, spewing smoke up to 2.5 km in the air and throwing rocks up to 1.5 km. Giant ash clouds pouring out of the volcano prompted the Tokyo VAAC to issue an ash warning for places above 25,000 feet (7.6 kilometers) and as a result of the eruption, an area of 2 km around the volcano has been evacuated.

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Volcanic lightning is seen above Mount Shinmoedake in Japan as it erupts. It is not clear why bolts of lightning are sometimes seen within erupting volcanoes. One theory is that that the spewing magma bubbles or particles of volcanic ash are themselves electrically charged, and by their motion create lightening.

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Photos: MSNBC, Reuters

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