Amazing New Images Show The Kīlauea Volcanic Eruption From Space

Lava has been flowing down the roads in Hawai'i

Lava has been flowing down the roads in Hawaii. USGS

The current bout of eruptions burping out of the K?lauea volcano in Hawaii has provided some pretty spectacular displays. Now, a new perspective is taking things to another level, as NASA has released pictures of the event from space.

Around a dozen fissures have opened up on the flank of the volcano, spraying molten rock and leaching toxic gas across the Leilani Estates region in the south of Hawaii. So far, it has caused the evacuation of at least 1,700 people and destroyed 31 homes, as lava flows down the streets and engulfs anything it meets, including cars.


These latest images from NASA were captured on Sunday by the Terra satellite, using its Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). As you might expect, the instrument detects thermal infrared wavelengths, meaning that effectively it picks up on heat.

ASTER image acquired May 6 picks up hotspots on the thermal infrared bands – shown in yellow. These hotspots are newly formed fissures and lava flows. Credits: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

In the first image, the deep red is the lush vegetation, while the blue/grey flowing into the sea shows old lava flows, and the spots of yellow and bright green are the new fissures that have opened up in the last few weeks. The second picture shows the sulfur dioxide gas flowing from the cracks, with the green and yellow streaks revealing the direction of the plumes.

Sulfur dioxide plumes, extracted from ASTER’s multiple thermal bands, are shown here in yellow and green. Credits: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

While this latest eruption has drawn quite a lot of attention due to its striking outburst, K?lauea has actually been erupting near continuously for the last 35 years. In fact, in 1990 a rogue vent saw the lava flows engulf and partially destroy the nearby historic fishing village of Kalapana, swallowing 182 homes and reforming the coastline.   

This newest flare-up can be traced back to April 30, when the floor of the crater is thought to have collapsed. As magma flowed underground, it caused a massive magnitude 6.9 earthquake to rock the region, with aftershocks rippling on for days. After being pushed into new regions, the magma eventually broke through the surface, causing the astonishing jets of lava and massive flows that have resulted in so much damage to the livelihoods of those who live in the Leilani Estates.


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