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What is the Haleakala Volcano?

Haleakal?, a giant shield volcano, forms the eastern bulwark of the island of Maui. Credit: National Geographic/Cathy Roberts

Haleakal?, a giant shield volcano, forms the eastern bulwark of the island of Maui. Credit: National Geographic/Cathy Roberts

Haleakala is a volcano in Hawaii. This volcano, also known as East Maui Volcano, makes up approximately three-fourths of the island of Maui. Originally, Hawaiians named the summit, and only the summit, of the Haleakala Volcano, which means “the house of the Sun.” However, gradually the name has been extended to encompass the entire volcano.

The name referred to the summit probably because the Sun could be seen rising from the east over the volcano. The name also had its roots in Hawaiian folklore which said that the depression of the volcano was where the grandmother of Maui, a demigod, lived. One Hawaiian legend says that Maui’s grandmother helped him capture the Sun and make the days longer by slowing it down.

The volcano at East Maui has erupted numerous times in the last thousand years, so scientists think it will definitely erupt sometime in the future. Scientists used to believe that the volcano last erupted around 1790. However, scientists from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory radiocarbon dated the lava and found that the eruption was older than first believed.

They dated it somewhere between 1480 and 1600 A.D. There is still confusion though because scientists questioned people who said their grandparents saw the eruption. That would place an eruption around 1750 A.D. Scientists have estimated that the oldest volcanic eruption there dates back to over one million years ago.

The summit of the Haleakala Volcano is approximately 3,048 meters above sea level. Next to the summit is a crater that is about 11.25 by 3 kilometers and 800 meters deep. There are a number of volcanic cones in the crater. The crater itself however was not created by volcanic eruptions and is not a caldera, which is a volcano whose sides have collapsed to form a depression.

Actually, the crater formed when two valleys merged into each other due to their separating walls forging together at the summit of the volcano. The volcano area is a popular tourist spot and is packed with visitors biking, hiking or driving up to the summit. The area has actually been made into a national park, the Haleakala National Park.

Because of the clarity and stillness of the air, the summit of Haleakala is one of the most valuable spots for observatories. It is also far away from city lights and above one-third of the planet’s atmosphere. The summit is the location of an astrophysical research facility operated by a number of U.S. government   and academic organizations.

Universe Today has articles on types of volcanoes and what are volcanoes.

For more information, check out Haleakala, a potentially hazardous volcano and Haleakala.

Astronomy Cast has an episode on volcanoes.

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