Spectacular Eruptions of Mt. Etna in Sicily from Space and Earth

by Ken Kremer on January 15, 2011

View of Mt. Etna spewing smoke or ash from the orbiting NASA Terra Satellite before the eruption.
Close up view of northeastern Sicily and the Italian boot (top right).
Acquired on January 11, 2011.
NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day on January 15, 2011.
Credit: NASA Terra Satellite

Spectacular eruptions from Mt Etna are spewing massive quantities of lava, smoke and ash many hundreds of meters high into the skies above the island of Sicily. Mt Etna is the most active volcano in Europe and one of the most active on all of Earth. The volcano rumbled to life again this week on the evening of January 12, 2011 and lit up the night sky. Mt Etna is 3350 meters high and located on the northeast coast of Sicily near the boot of Italy (see above, below).

Updated: comment or send me your Etna erupting photos/accounts to post below.
This fearsome natural wonder is providing an awe inspiring show from both Earth and Space. Local residents and lucky tourists nearby took stunning videos and photos (below) showing fountains of brilliant lava eruptions streaming mightily from the volcano.

This Envisat MERIS image, acquired on 11 January 2011, shows the plume of smoke billowing into the atmosphere from Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy. Activity gradually increased the following day, peaking in the evening. Credits: ESA
Click to Enlarge all images


Amazing photos from space were captured by Earth orbiting satellites from NASA and ESA. NASA’s Terra satellite took the above image on Jan. 11 as Mt Etna was spewing forth smoke or ash just prior to the volcanic eruptions on Jan. 12. The photo of Etna is NASA’s Earth Observatory Image of the Day, today, Jan. 15, 2011.

ESA’s Envisat likewise snapped a gorgeous view of the billowing plume of smoke rising to space (photo at left) and the international crew aboard the ISS, which currently includes Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli. Perhaps he’ll send us a shot !

Local news and eyewitness accounts say that tremors from the volcano began increasing on Jan. 11. Emissions of volcanic gases and water vapor have been ongoing since late September 2010. The sounds of explosive tremors from deep inside were also detected months ago.

This sizzling hot video – “Etna at Maximum Activity” – is set to music and records the magnificent flowing streams of lava and the thunderous sounds of the crackling, explosive eruptions. Be sure to view at full screen, then just sit back and enjoy !

Plumes of volcanic ash from the eruptions spread across Sicily and forced the closure of the local Fontanarossa airport – nearby to the city of Catania, which is 24 kilometers away.

Rumblings of Mt Etna have been recorded in historical documents dating back to about 1500 BC.

Another short, dramatic video with the raw sounds of the eruption from a group of German tourists visiting the beautiful city of Taormina, Sicily

Eyewitness Description:
“Mount Etna erupted in the evening of January 12, 2011 for around four hours, providing an amazing scenery. We shot this unique video from Taormina on January 12, 2011 at 11.45 p.m. and uploaded it on YouTube.


On the evening of 11th January 2011 an increase in volcanic tremor was recorded at the summit of the volcano. The recorded seismic activity reached a peak at 7 a.m. on 12th January when the source moved from north of NE crater to the SE crater. The eruption started with strombolian explosive activity at SE crater at around 9.p.m. Lava overflowed the eastern rim of SE crater and fed a flow that moved toward the western wall of the Valle del Bove (Valley of the oxen), an ancient huge uninhabited depression on the NE side of the volcano.

The Sicilian communities near the volcano were not threatened by this latest fascinating eruption. Best place to watch the fascinating eruptions of Mount Etna is the town of Taormina, nestled on a hill at 220 meters / 722 feet above the sea level and at a safe linear distance of approx. 28 Km / 17,4 miles from the top craters of the Sicilian volcano.”

Fearsome lava eruptions spewing from Mt Etna on Jan. 11, 2011

A few years back, I visited Mt Etna and was incredibly lucky to witness this spectacle of nature myself. It was an unforgettable experience to see the glowing red-orange colored lava flowing out from the bowels of the Earth. It was like a living being with circulating blood.

In the excitement, I did something that in retrospect was incredibly stupid. I stood on a ledge, perhaps 50 cm thick, right above the porthole of the scalding hot lava erupting from the earth beneath my feet. Many others did too.

Sicily is a lovely place of manmade and natural wonders. Don’t pass up an opportunity to see Etna aflame

Look at Etnaweb (in Italian, but Universal) for a fantastic collection of local photos and webcams of the eruption.

Volcanic eruptions are breathtaking events to behold. The residual plumes of smoke and ash can stay aloft for many years and can also effect how we see other astronomical events such as our view of solar and lunar eclipses.

For a more tranquil view of Earth and inspiration from Carl Sagan, click here

NASA’s Spirit robot is positioned next to an ancient and extinct volcanic feature on Mars. Learn more here

Can you envision a place hotter than Etna ? … A scorching, molten hellish world where the temperatures are unimaginably hot

Read about a newly detected Earth-sized planet with lava flows vastly hotter than Etna – or anywhere on Earth for that matter – in this story about a historic new discovery from NASA’s Kepler space telescope

Comment or send me your photos and eyewitness accounts of erupting Mt Etna

Signs of activity at the summit of Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano.
Water vapor and other volcanic gases overflow Etna’s summit craters, spilling out over the volcano’s upper slopes. A steam plume rises from a collapse pit that formed in late 2009, the newest volcanic feature on Etna. Dark lava flows from recent eruptions cover the peak, overlaying lighter, weathered flows from hundreds or thousands of years ago. (Numbers on the image indicate when a flow was erupted.) The oldest lavas are covered by green vegetation. Eruptive cones and fissures also dot the landscape. Frequent explosions deep within the Northeast Crater, which may presage an upcoming eruption, are audible at the summit. These explosions were occurring sporadically every few minutes, as recorded by nearby seismometers. This natural-color satellite image was acquired by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard (EO-1) on September 26, 2010.

Mt Etna photographed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station on August, 2, 2006.
One of the most consistently active volcanoes in the world, Sicily’s Mount Etna has a historical record of eruptions dating back to 1500 BC. This astronaut photograph captures plumes of steam and possibly ash originating from summit craters on the mountain: the Northeast Crater and Central Crater, which includes two secondary craters (Voragine and Bocca Nuova). Locals heard explosions coming from the rim of the Northeast Crater on July 26, 2006, and the plumes shown in this image are likely a continuation of that activity. Credit: NASA.

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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