What is a Volcano?

This week on Newsdesk: volcanic lightning in the Philippines, devastating bushfires in Australia and a swat-proof robotic insect.

Volcanic lightning in the Philippines

Earlier this week, an erupting volcano in the Philippines led to a spectacular natural phenomenon known as volcanic lightning. Taal Volcano sits in the middle of a lake, close to the Philippines’ capital city, Manila. It’s one of the Philippines’ smallest, but most active, volcanoes.

The eruption caused volcanic lightning, a phenomenon that occurs when small pieces of ash bump into each other and generate static electricity. Later, lava began to erupt from the volcano.

Scientists monitoring Taal think it could continue to erupt for days, or even weeks. Thousands of people living nearby have been evacuated to safer areas.

Devastating bushfires in Australia

Since October, devastating wildfires have swept across parts of Australia. Around 2000 homes have been lost and, tragically, at least 28 people are known to have died. The fires have also destroyed important habitats for wildlife.

In Australia, wildfires in forests and grasslands are called bushfires. They’re a natural phenomenon, and they can benefit ecosystems – for example, by clearing space for young plants. However, this year’s bushfires are much bigger and more destructive than usual, and it’s thought that climate change is partly to blame.

Record-breaking high temperatures, and a long period with very little rain, called a drought, have dried out trees and grasses, allowing the bushfires to spread rapidly.

A swat-proof robotic insect

DEAnsect is a tiny, soft robot developed by researchers in Switzerland. Each of its three legs is attached to a tiny, artificial muscle which expands and contracts up to 450 times a second – faster than the human eye can see! This moves the leg and drives the robot forward.

DEAnsect also has sensors which detect light and dark, allowing it to follow a line. And because it’s made from soft materials, it doesn’t break when it’s swatted!

One day, the researchers think swarms of insect robots could inspect buildings or even help us learn more about real insects by living among them.

Discover more about volcanic eruptions by watching the Twig Film What is a Volcano?

For more great topical science content, visit Reach Out Reporter where you'll also find videos, transcripts and lesson support to accompany this article.