Breathtaking Photo Reveals What a Volcano Eruption Looks Like From Space

Watching a volcano erupt would be cool. But having a front-row seat 254 miles (408 kilometers) above the volcano? That would be a view.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured the breathtaking scene Saturday showing the vigorous eruption of the Raikoke volcano.

Raikoke is an uninhabited island along the Kuril chain, a necklace of narrow strip islands draped 500 miles (800 kilometers) from northern Japan to northeast Russia.

Formerly owned by Japan, the volcanic island – which occupies an area less than two square miles (5 square kilometers) – is under the control of Russia, and has been since World War II.

The aerial view offers a perspective seldom seen during major eruptions. Like a thunderstorm, a mushroom cloud blossoms over the volcano, where ash is catapulted into the sky with explosive force.

The updraft is so strong in the middle that it “outruns” the plume’s periphery, making the edges curl down before becoming entrained in the rising cloud again. During Saturday’s eruption, the plume may have rocketed up more than 50,000 feet (10 miles or 15 kilometers).

It’s easy to guess which way the winds were blowing by looking at the photograph. A more diffuse, expansive sheet of ash clouds lingers downwind, transported by strong upper-level winds over the Sea of Okhotsk.

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