A Volcanic Twofer... FROM SPACE

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Dec. 4 2013 11:30 AM

A Volcanic Twofer... FROM SPACE

Regular readers know I love me a volcano picture from space, and today I have two.

The first is from one of my favorite volcanic hunting grounds, the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia. This forbidding region has several active volcanoes, and when they are covered in snow, they make for an extremely photogenic — if slightly terrifying — setting.

Klyuchevskaya volcano
Klyuchevskaya volcano in Russia, which is easier to pronounce than spell. Click to massively hephaestenate.

Photo by NASA via the Earth Observatory Picture of the Day

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Klyuchevskaya (also spelled Kliuchevskoi) is one of a cluster of volcanoes on Kamchatka, and is pretty active. It’s a big one, reaching 4750 meters (15,500 feet) high, and has been continuously active for centuries. On Nov. 16, 2013, the International Space Station was 1500 km (900 miles) to the southwest of the stratovolcano when an astronaut snapped this highly oblique shot of it:

Ooooh, aaaaaah. The plume of ash and steam appears to be blown east by winds immediately after leaving the vent, and by the shadows I’m thinking it was early in the morning. I’ve written about Klyuchevskaya many times (like here and here and here), and every time it’s because of some amazing image of it taken from space. It’s truly lovely, if tremendously forbidding.

Note that essentially every large peak you see in that photo is a volcano. Yikes.

Let me now take you from the frozen north to the tropical southeast: Vanuatu, an archipelago of volcanoes east of Australia. Astronaut Mike Hopkins was flying over it in the ISS recently, and tweeted this spectacular photo of one of the islands in the chain:

Ambrym volcano
Ambrym volcano in the Vanuatu volcanic chain. Click to embiggen.

Photo by NASA via astronaut Mike Hopkins

He doesn’t say which one it is, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that it’s Ambrym, a shield volcano with a caldera about 12 km (8 miles) across — you can see the rim of it circling around to the left in the photo. It was created in a huge explosion around 50 A.D., one of the largest in recorded history. It’s still a very active volcano, with two cones in the caldera: Marum (the oval one on the left) and Benbow (right; in the picture north is roughly down). The picture is a little overexposed (you can see it in the plume) but it shows the vegetation and the lack thereof perfectly.

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!  

The island is lightly populated, but there have been several deaths due to eruptions in the past; people were killed by lava bombs and overtaken by flowing lava. Still, the location looks lovely, and one day I’d love to visit it. I need someone with more money than sense to fund me for a year to travel the world and visit amazing places; if I ever got to Vanuatu I’d very much like to see Ambrym, as well as Gaua.

What a planet we live on! There are so many places to see, and so many things to learn about them.

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