23 Seconds of Wonder

The beautiful, terrifying eruption of Chile's Calbuco volcano is made all the more stunning by the people who captured it on film


I've watched this 23-second time lapse of Chile's Calbuco volcano erupting probably 23 times by now. It's stunning, all peach-toned and billowy. Like a violent sunrise—clouds piling six miles skyward; flecks of lightning—that evokes the creation of a planet.

The images that have emerged in the aftermath of this volcano are unreal. Calbuco is considered one of Chile's most dangerous volcanoes, but until this week, it hadn't erupted in a generation. Which means this is the first time Calbuco has been recorded—and viewed by people all over the world—in such a dazzling and frightening fashion. (When Calbuco erupted in 1919, it got two sentences of a mention in The New York Times. Readers 5,000 miles away from Chile could imagine the "ashes and lava... destroying fields and houses," but they certainly couldn't see it for themselves.)

For as much as a volcanic activity is a hallmark of our home planet, eruptions make everything appear alien. Here's what it looked like yesterday in the Patagonian Argentine area of San Marin de Los Andes, where ash from Calbuco fell like snow. (For more astonishing images of Calbuco, check out this photo gallery by my colleague Alan Taylor.)


I'm not sure when people will begin to take this kind of imagery for granted. Hopefully never. But part of the way technology changes how people see and understand the world is by forever altering our expectations about what's possible—and that happens in large part when we capture the phenomena that are, no matter how many times you see them, most incredible.