Kīlauea volcano stretches throughout Hawaii’s southeastern edge, its surface area a gloam-hued circumference that emits a deeply ethereal electricity. Its existence is historic and substantial on the island, and the defend volcano sleeps and wakes as it pleases. Amongst 200 and three hundred millennia previous, Kīlauea has not long ago begun stirring: Because 1983 it has erupted nearly constantly, earning it the world’s most energetic known volcano and building open up fissures and spewing magma fountains that drape and drip down the mountain’s rocky sides. Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire, is reported to stay atop its lava lake summit, now one particular of the world’s most energetic, and according to vacationer mythology and unofficial lore, will unfurl a curse on these who dare take away rock or lava from her sooty area.

Volcanologists dare toy with guidebook fate — the prizes are treasured and telling. They research for Pele’s hair and Pele’s tears. Hrs after an eruption commences inside Hawai’i Volcanoes Countrywide Park, geochemist Kendra J. Lynn treads carefully alongside Kīlauea terrain, observing the airborne formations in the volcanic mouth higher than.

Pele’s hair. (Credit: Cm3826/CC BY-SA 4./Wikimedia Commons)

When molten lava spews from a volcano and satisfies the cooler air, it quickly commences to solidify, a system referred to as quenching. Pele’s hair is the byproduct of lava bubbles that are simultaneously quenching and popping. “The bubbles, when they burst, extend and extend into a actually slender movie,” states Lynn.

The lava hardens and stretches, “sort of like when you pull a caramel candy aside, or like a piece of bubblegum,” she states. When at last it turns into completely good and completely stretched, what utilised to be a scorching and popping lava bubble now resembles very long, glassy strands of hair: wafting as a result of the air, accumulating downwind, near in which Lynn surveys. She will have to cope with Pele’s hair with treatment. The slender filaments split very easily, usually slivering beneath skin. “They even get as a result of your rubber shoe soles,” warns Thomas Shea, a volcanologist at the College of Hawaii. “Tough area gloves and shoe soles advisable.”

Pele’s hair is “easiest to see in the sunlight, as it appears to be like gleaming gold spider webs on the floor,” states geologist Cheryl Gansecki. But Pele’s tears are never ever an straightforward obtain, laying concealed and buried inside the goddess’s tousles of hair. The tears are shaped like very little commas, or tadpoles, or raindrops obsidian black with a glassy sheen, denser than the hair and usually no bigger than a dime. They way too are volcanic glass, the end result of lava quenching devoid of stretching. “You can assume about throwing a stone into a system of water, and water droplets are thrown out from that disturbance,” Lynn states. The tears are denser, extra compact, but no a lot less fragile. They are the miraculous byproduct of vigorous volcanic ejection, offspring of a lava blast. 

Pele’s tears. (Credit: Ivtorov/CC BY-SA 4./Wikimedia Commons)

Locating a Pele’s tear is like remaining enable in on a stunning mystery, and they comprise many: gas bubbles, minerals, crystals. Once they are chemically assessed in research labs, “all these points give a glimpse of what’s going on within the volcano,” Lynn states. At Lynn’s lab, at the U.S. Geological Study Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, she employs this chemistry to realize the grand timescales of how magma transfer and are saved in the volcano. Gansecki, an affiliate professor at the College of Hawaii at Hilo, has utilised Pele’s tears and hair to forecast how lava may behave. Shea observes how magma crystallizes during its explosive ascent.

It seems unbelievable: On the face of an energetic volcano, deep inside the glassy ruck of Pele’s hair, inside the little wonder of Pele’s tears, are clues into what has been transgressing miles beneath the surface area, around timescales ranging from several hours to several years. “The enjoyment never ever wears off,” Lynn states. “He or she who sees the most rocks wins, mainly because there is always extra to learn.”