Mayon volcano ready to blow?

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Dec. 21 2009 11:56 AM

Mayon volcano ready to blow?

Mayon is a volcano in the Philippines that has been rumbling quite a bit lately, and scientists think it may be on the verge of a catastrophic eruption. They've issued a Level 4 alert; the only higher alert is Level 5, which is when a volcano is actually and actively erupting. This is serious: 45,000 people have been evacuated in case the volcano blows.

This image of Mayon was taken last week and posted on the Earth Observatory Image of the Day:

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mayon_volcano

As you can see, downslope of the volcano -- and in the path of previous flows -- is the town of Legazpi, with nearly 200,000 inhabitants. Scientists at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology are recommending making danger zones that extend for several kilometers north and south of the volcano.

mayon_volcano_1984Activity such as earthquakes and smaller eruptions have already been seen, and it looks like this volcano really is going to erupt. The last big one was in 1993, and its history of deadly activity goes back longer than that; the picture here is of a pyroclastic flow from 1984.

I certainly hope that no one will be killed or injured from this, but I also know that there will always be people who don't heed the warnings. If only more people understood that science works, and that geologists and volcanologists know their stuff. They devote their lives to this field, and their study of the Earth and its paroxysms may save the lives of others.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!