Webcam Catches the Popocatépetl Volcano Blowing Its Stack

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June 19 2013 10:00 AM

Webcam Catches the Popocatépetl Volcano Blowing Its Stack

popocatepetl_erupting_june172013
Popocatépetl had a bit of a bad day on June 17, 2013.

Photo by webcamsdemexico, from the video

I don’t think most people are aware that Mexico has a lot of volcanoes, and some are quite active. Popocatépetl is located just 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Mexico City, and it’s been rumbling and grumbling since 1991. Because of this, the volcano is constantly monitored, and because of that, we get to see this awesome time-lapse video, taken on June 17, just after 13:00 local time, of Popocatépetl blowing its top:

Wow! You can actually see the shock wave blowing away from the vent and the blast moving down the flank of the volcano and disturbing the material there. A few seconds later you can see boulders and other dislodged matter rolling (or more likely shot) down the flank. (The motion is accelerated in the time-lapse; the entire video covers about 12 minutes of real time.)

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This eruption, for all its terrifying power, was actually not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things; the mountain settled down minutes later … although it was large enough to be detected by GOES-13 weather satellite in space (very cool animation there).

The ash cloud rose to a height of several kilometers and dissipated as it blew downwind to the southwest (away from Mexico City, happily). Volcanic material was blown out for a few kilometers around the area, setting small fires in the grass, but no one has been reported as injured. Roads around the summit have been closed, and traffic within 12 kilometers (8 miles) has been restricted. Sounds like a good idea to me.

In a few days I’ll be in Oregon for Science Getaways, traipsing among the volcanoes there. None is likely to show any grand activity while we’re there, but we’ll be investigating lava tubes, obsidian fields, and canoeing in a caldera lake. I expect to be tweeting a lot of pictures. Stay tuned!

Tip o’ the cinder cone to Maik Thomas.

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

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