Mt. Etna erupts!

By Phil Plait | January 20, 2011 7:00 am

[This post is about the recent eruptions of Mt. Etna in Sicily. It’s part of a set of gorgeous images of volcanoes as seen from space; the first three are of Etna. Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Etna, ISS, radar, Terra, volcanoes

Comments (31)

  1. FC

    Has anyone reported seeing a trio of weathered and haggard looking explorers around Mt. Etna? 😀

  2. Mike

    No, but I’m looking for a group of bright-eyed and bushy tailed explorers who were in Iceland recently.

  3. Most of the lighter colored plumes in the first image are *not* from fires: they are from eruptive centers on the ridge leading away from Etna’s summit. The smoke from the fires is just barely visible beneath the volcanic plumes. Unfortunately, the original caption is incorrect, and not all versions were fixed.

  4. Wow. That first photo is really incredible!!

  5. Adam

    I went to Lanzarote recently and toured the Montañas del Fuego which is the aftermath of a lengthy set of eruptions 300 years ago. It has to be one of the creepiest landscapes I’ve ever seen – ashy slopes, vents, craters with barely any visible life except for lichen and a few shrubs. Most of the south west half of the island is covered in volcanic crap to a depth of about a meter – big vicious jagged rocks for as far as the eye can see. It’s well worth seeing.

  6. @ Adam:

    Nea Kameni, the slowly growing island in the middle of the collapsed volcanic caldera in the center of the Greek island of Fira (Santorini) is the same way. Such landscapes seem like the closest we can come to visiting the Earth before life took hold on land.

    Although I couldn’t help but expect to see Raquel Welch strolling by wearing a fur bikini. (Inside joke for Ray Harryhausen fans.)

  7. Michel

    In/on the most ubercool (IMHO) wallpaper “Desktopearth” (download here: you can spot the plume!

  8. Mt. Etna is a massive chronic carbon dioxide emitter. Italy must be heinously unned for carbon credits. Mt. Etna must be shut down. NOW.

  9. Michael Swanson

    Keep your liberal atheist vulcanology to yourself and and stick to astronomy!

  10. Michel

    Vulcans are atheist?
    Damn Spock!

  11. ERic

    @Uncle Al: Wait, I’m confused. I thought a nice big volcanic eruption would counteract GCC.

  12. Oh, good. I can spell and pronounce “Etna”.

  13. Mike

    @12: what word are you trying to spell?

  14. Michel

    I think the rabbit went for “spell”

  15. @Michael Swanson:

    Heh heh! That whooshing sound you hear is the sarcasm going right over Uncle Al’s head.

  16. Alek

    Are volcanos earth’s pimples?

  17. Old Geezer

    Does anybody recall seeing a post very much like this one ten days ago?

  18. Michel

    Good question Alek.
    But what you want to ask: if when we squeeze one… what happens?
    Go we right?
    Or left?
    Tell us… how do we die?

  19. I remember flying into Sigonella one time while that baby was smoking and spitting fire. Makes for an eerie sight (although it’s a pain in the butt to deal with. Volcanic ash and jet engines as you know).

  20. Jeff

    Yes, I’ve taught earth sciences 20 years, and when I wake up the last month and see the twilight of earth’s atmosphere, Venus, and Sun all superimposed in the same window, I conclude we are just a planet like Venus obeying the sun’s gravity. But I have myself concluded the earth is the most beautiful of all and the most varied of the planets. When I was in college, we only had black and white photos and slide rules, now we have these beautiful images and blog discussion, kids out there, be appreciative!

  21. Michael Swanson

    10. Michel

    “Vulcans are atheist?
    Damn Spock!”

    Well, they are logical, aren’t they?

  22. Trebuchet

    Gorgeous pics, even if most have been seen here before. However, I must whine:
    When I’m stuck in the land of dial-up, these dang galleries don’t work at all. Unless I wait an hour or so. Perhaps a link to the gallery instead?

  23. Brad

    My favorite is Hello Cleveland — you can see how the shock wave of the eruption has impacted the clouds around it.

    Awesome blog by the way. Just found it… wandered o’er here from cosmic variance.

  24. Martin

    #1 and #2

    Actually, the three explorers in Verne’s story actually came out of Stromboli, an island/volcano to the north of Sicily.

  25. Chris

    Don’t many satellites contain momentum wheels that allow them to be pointed in different directions besides straight down?

  26. The big scoop out of the side in the radar image reminds me of the flank of Mt St. Helen – I wonder if something similar happened at Etna in prehistory?

  27. KAE

    “…With the blue
    mountains of Calabria in the east, they walked away from the
    mountain that had returned them, the frightening Mount Etna”

    From Rick Wakeman’s album “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”
    I’ll have to check the book version… once I find it. 😉

  28. Allen Thomson

    > Don’t many satellites contain momentum wheels that allow them to be pointed in different directions besides straight down?

    Yes. Although most pictures are taken near nadir, the satellites can and sometimes do point considerably to the side.

  29. Messier Tidy Upper

    @17.Old Geezer : Does anybody recall seeing a post very much like this one ten days ago?

    You mean this one :

    Of Russian Kamchatka volcanoes taken by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite, erupting posted back on the 10th January at 7 a.m. & also with a gallery? Yes , its a similar type of post and image but I for one am not complaining. :-)

    Comparing the two, I think the Etna one’s better. 😉

    It even beats the Krakatoa image mentioned below :

    Although that volcano wins for eruption scale methinks! 😉

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    @11. ERic :

    @Uncle Al: Wait, I’m confused. I thought a nice big volcanic eruption would counteract GCC.

    Well the BA notes in another volcano post ‘Remnants of a violent past’ posted November 24th, 2010 & linked above, moderation permitting :

    Krakatau, or Krakatoa, an active volcano in Indonesia … [Snip!] … this particular hill decided to throw something of a hissy fit in 1883. In fact in four separate monstrous explosions the volcano detonated with the energetic yield of about 200 megatons of TNT — several times the energy of the most powerful nuclear weapon ever tested. The explosions tore the island apart, and killed tens of thousands of people. It threw so much ash in the atmosphere that the global average temperature dropped over a degree. As a solution to global warming it leaves something to be desired.

    Actually volcanoes *both* add to Co2 levels by emittting the gas and *also* temporarily reduce our planet’s temperature by emitting *other* gases and reflective particles. Their exact impact on our climate, I gather, varies based on the precise type & size of the eruption and also, I think, changes over time; ie. once the initial cooling particles fall out of the atmosphere, then the warming impact of the Co2 which stays around longer kicks in.

    For details & more info. speak to your nearest friendly climatologist and/or vulcanologist – of which I’m neither, just an interested layperson who reads a lot. :-)

    As for shutting Mt Etna down to prevent it emitting Carbon Dioxide into the air – good luck with that! 😉

    We can only really control our emissions NOT nature’s.

  31. chaos


    I’m a Filipino, so I can’t help but notice, you got the town near Mayon Volcano wrong. It’s “Legazpi”. Also, it’s a city.


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