Fire and ice

The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 24 2011 12:15 PM

Fire and ice

I love all these fantastic pictures of volcanoes we're getting from space, but I think I have a new favorite: the Onekotan Island caldera, covered in snow, as seen by the astronauts on the International Space Station:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

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


Click to Hephaestenate and get the stunning full-res shot.

What a magnificent photograph! The south (left) side of Onekotan is a collapsed caldera; magma filled a gigantic chamber underneath the cone, building up enormous pressure, until one day it exploded. Once the chamber emptied the mountain above and around it collapsed down, leaving that huge depression 7.5 km (4.6 miles) wide. Eventually water filled the bowl, forming the Kal’tsevoe Lake, and a new volcanic stratovolcano, Krenitzyn Peak, built up in the lake.

On the other side (north or right) is the smaller lake Chernoe, the remnants of a caldera that's millennia old. Nemo peak is a new volcano forming there in the ashes of the old. The entire island is about 43 km (26 miles) long, with Krenitzyn topping out at 1350 meters, and Nemo at just over 1000. It's part of the Kuril chain of volcanic islands that stretch north of Japan up to Kamchatka.

Those are the stats and the scientific facts. They're interesting, certainly, but really it's the simple beauty of the picture that's so enthralling. Covered in a layer of snow, this island hardly looks like it could have had the incredibly violent history it must have experienced.

I have a gallery of amazing volcano pictures taken from space, and this one is clearly among the most beautiful of them. I think that science is at its best when it reveals both the incredible inner and outer beauty of nature.

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