There have been a plethora of images from space documenting Kilauea’s dramatic eruption as the volcano’s lava flows create all kinds of havoc on the Big Island. But perhaps none are as awesome as this one.
The image, captured by astronaut Rick Arnold aboard the International Space Station as it flew over the Pacific Ocean and shared through his social media on Wednesday, shows Kilauea’s lava rivers as a bright-orange speck against our blue-marble planet.
Kilauea’s flows of molten rock can be so hot—a scorching 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,170 degrees Celsius)—that their vibrant glow can be seen from space, a stark contrast to the dark blanket of night that envelops most of our planet, whose surface does not radiate at such hellish temperatures.
250 miles (400 kilometers) above the action, the rarified high ground where the ISS flies, has been quite the vantage point to look at volcanic activity. Last month, astronaut Andrew Faustel, another ISS crewmember, captured a picture of one of Kilauea’s vents releasing a plume of steam and ash during the day.
Back on Earth, the scene is more hectic. Though the volcano has technically been erupting since the 1980s, new and more dangerous activity revved up last month, with “pumpkin orange lava flows” in the Lower East Rift Zone encroaching on homes and reshaping the Big Island’s landscape.
Experts are uncertain how long that bright-orange dot could keep glowing. The eruption has not waned during its nearly two-month stint of oozing and fountaining. Historical parallels of Kilauea’s current volcanic activity like Kilauea’s 1955 three-month eruption on the Lower East Rift Zone might give us clues as to what to expect.
And Kilauea continues doing its thing. Fissure 8's fountains of lava reached up to 187 feet tall on Wednesday before feeding lava rivers and pouring into the ocean, according to the USGS status report. Exposure to Pele’s Hair, thin volcanic glass fragments that blow downwind of the fissure, remain a continuing threat to local residents.