5. Mount Vesuvius Eruption 79 AD
I’m not really sure whether a tsunami or an erupting volcano would be more terrifying, but the people of 79 AD Pompeii and Herculaneum would insist on the latter. It was these two cities that were completely engulfed by 13-20 feet of ash. The explosion of Mt Vesuvius’s cone exerted one hundred thousand times larger than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Many volcanoes erupt every year (about 50-70 on average), but certain eruptions echo through history books. The Vesuvius Eruption remains fresh in peoples’ minds due to the (1500 years) later excavation of the city. Many statues have been made by filling holes in the ash left by disintegrating corpses. These life-size, captured moments of terror serve as a reminder that humans have not conquered nature after all. Perhaps looking to reignite its notoriety, Vesuvius’ most recent eruption took place during World War II. The eruption destroyed three villages and a United States Air Force base.
4. The Mount Nyiragongo Lava Lake
Nowhere can you stare into the primordial origins of earth more so than inside the crater of a volcano. Often the experience might be nice and yet underwhelming as you gaze across a crater full of trees. One mountain in Africa is leading the way in changing this experience up: Why just erupt when you can sport one of the world’s most photogenic lava lakes? Mount Nyiragongo is an active volcano in Congo who has a crater often cradling a lava lake. The level of the lake rises and falls constantly, but it is considered perhaps the largest lava lake in volume in the world. The Nyiragongo lava lake is also unique because it is usually mostly molten where many lava lakes are only partly so. The mountain is enshrouded by the Virunga National Park, filled with mountain gorillas and other fauna. The area has recently experience a surge in tourism and ecological since a history of civil war and poaching left it all but decimated by 2008.
3. 2011 Tōhoku Tsunami
No natural phenomenon grabs headlines like a tsunami. Its sheer force and size makes people with even the steeliest nerves shake when they see footage of such a beast. Perhaps this uneasy sublime is caused in part by the knowledge that tsunamis are more likely to cause mass amount of human deaths than other natural disasters. The world held its collective breath in 2011 when an earthquake threw the Tōhoku tsunami against the shores of Japan. What resulted was some of the most stunning and frightening visuals ever captured. Over 18,000 people were killed or missing (and by now, presumed dead). Pets were displaced, nuclear accidents occurred (at the now-infamous Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant), and entire towns were washed away. The Tōhoku tsunami was an unprecedented disaster, becoming easily the costliest in recorded history.
2. Aurora Borealis or The Northern Lights
No two pictures of the Northern Lights will look the same. For centuries, northern peoples and visitors have been dazzled by the different patterns that strike the eye. The lights are a result of energized particles colliding with high altitude, atmospheric atoms. The energy is provided by the solar wind released from the sun’s upper atmosphere. The earth’s magnetic field guides this energy and results in the visual dance of light that sometimes can be witnessed by the human eye. The phenomenon may be a routine occurrence, but the visibility of the rays varies. You may even catch glimpses of this occurrence during the day. A Native American tribe, the Cree, refer to the aurora borealis as the “Dance of the Spirits”. During the Middle Ages, Europeans looked to the Northern Lights for signs of God. Its southern sister, aurora australis, can be viewed from high altitudes in New Zealand, South America, Australia, and Antarctica.
1. 1982 Galunggung Volcano Eruption and Lightning Strike
There is perhaps nothing in this world as awe-inspiring as a volcanic eruption. A lightning strike is a natural occurrence that people around the world can share experience of. Add these two things together, however, and the synergetic reaction produces a once in a lifetime visual encounter. Mt Galunggung is an active composite volcano in West Java, Indonesia. In 1982, this behemoth (just 50 miles south of Indonesia’s capital) erupted. The above picture looks like it was captured straight out of a fantasy world, where nature’s elements clash and remind man of their humble place in the natural order.