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The Haleakala Volcano is one of the most popular tourist spots in Hawaii. It is located on the island of Maui and is also called the East Maui Volcano. It forms the eastern part of the island. There is also a legend behind the volcano. According to the Hawaiian legend, in the depression of the volcano, the demigod Maui’s grandmother lived. She helped Maui capture the Sun and slow down its path so the days were longer. The name Haleakala was originally only used by early Hawaiians to refer to the summit itself; however, the name has come to be used for the entire volcano.
Although the volcano is currently not active, it is not extinct. The volcano has erupted a number of times in the last thousand years. A volcano is not considered extinct until it has not erupted for tens of thousands of years. Thus, Haleakala is simply dormant, and scientists think that it could very well erupt in the future. The last extinction is something of a puzzle. Scientists used to believe that it occurred around 1790 A.D. However, more recent carbon dating showed that the last eruption was probably much earlier – maybe between 1480 and 1600 A.D. Scientists are puzzled though because people interviewed have said that their grandparents witnessed an eruption, which would put it around 1760 A.D.
Haleakala is a shield volcano, meaning it is shaped like an upside down bowl or shield. A large volcano, its summit is about 3,048 meters from sea level. The summit’s depression is approximately 11.25 by 3 kilometers and 800 meters deep. From the summit, one can see a crater nearby. The crater was not formed by an eruption but rather by two adjacent valleys merging into one larger one. The crater is dotted with volcanic cones.
As a very popular tourist location, the area is visited by people on foot, on bike, on horseback, and by car. The region has also been made into a national park called Haleakala National Park. In addition to being a tourist spot, the summit of Haleakala is also highly prized as a spot for ground-based telescopes due to the clarity of air, height, and lack of interference from city lights or other factors. There is a major astrophysics facility there that is jointly run by government and academic institutes including the University of Hawaii and the Department of Defense.
Astronomy Cast has an episode on volcanoes you should find interesting.