There's so much awesome in this photograph I can hardly stand itS

Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano — known to many as "the Black Giant" — is one of the most active volcanos on Earth; and under the right circumstances, it's also one of the most beautiful.

Tungurahua is currently in the middle of an "eruptive phase" that kicked off just before the turn of the millennium. For the last 1300 years, Tungurahua has been wigwagging in and out of activity every 80—100 years; prior to the first resurgence of volcanic activity in 1999, the volcano hadn't made much of a fuss in close to a century.

But twice in 2006, after almost seven years of moderate activity, Tungurahua erupted violently, gushing scorching ash, lava, and pyroclastic flows that claimed the lives of at least five people in the surrounding areas. By sheer coincidence, photographer Patrick Taschler happened to be traveling in Ecuador just before the explosion. When he heard that Tungurahua was on the verge of a major eruption, he made a beeline for the volcano in hopes of catching it in action. He recounts his journey:

I approached it from the west, which was said to be the good weather side, since the clouds generally roll in from the east/amazonas. The road I was on ended at Puela, a little town at the western slopes of the volcano. Night fell and the clouds dissipated and I found myself staying up all night to observe and to take pictures. I'm quite a fan of astronomy and so I realised that the star cluster M45 (Pleiades) was about to appear in the night sky on this moonless night, and that it would emerge more or less behind the crater. That's exactly what happened. I took my picture using a Canon D20 and 70-200mm combination, with an exposure time of around 20 seconds. It was a difficult shot to take, thanks to the humidity and the fact that ash was falling fairly liberally around me.

There's so much awesome in this photograph I can hardly stand itS

The ash ruined Taschler's camera, but not before he snapped some jaw-droppingly beautiful photos of Tungurahua. Just look at them. The moonless night makes the stars pop out from the background, plumes of ash mingle with wisps of milky clouds as they sweep across the volcano's crater, and molten rock oozes blood-like from Tungurahua's angry peak. It's almost too perfectly composed to believe.

Hi res versions of the photo featured here, as well as the one up top, available here and here. You can find more of Taschler's work on his website.
[Spotted on NASA APOD]