11 Images of Volcanoes as Seen From Space

A view of a volcano from space

NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies

Spouting fire and noxious gases, volcanoes have alternatively inspired and frightened people since the dawn of time. There’s the epic Santorini eruption of Greece in 1650 B.C. that killed millions and is thought to have wiped the Minoan civilization off the planet. Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., famously burying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 75 feet of ash. In 1883, as much as two-thirds of the island of Krakatau in Indonesia was blasted 75,000 feet into the atmosphere when a volcano erupted.

Now, thanks to the various Earth-observing satellites of NASA, we can see epic eruptions as never before. Pictured here is the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland on April 17, 2010. According to NASA, this false-color image shows "a strong thermal source (denoted in red) visible at the base of the Eyjafjallajökull plume." It was taken by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) instrument aboard NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) spacecraft. Here are some oddly beautiful images of volcanoes as seen from space.

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Kilauea in Big Island, Hawaii

Photo: NASA/METI/AIST/Japan Space Systems, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

The Kilauea volcano is an active volcano on the island of Hawaii (Big Island) that has been in an eruption cycle since 1983. The volcano erupted on May 3, 2018 after several days of higher seismic activity — forcing the evacuations of residents in the surrounding area. The initial eruption activated other fissure eruptions. Within a few weeks, more than 20 fissures cracked open as lava flowed into neighborhoods.

NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft captured this satellite image on May 6. The red areas are vegetation, and the gray and black are older lava flows. The small sections of yellow highlight hotspots, and the hotspots towards the east show newly-formed fissures and the lava flows.

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Photo: Jesse Allen/NASA

This natural-color image of Mayon Volcano in the Philippines was captured by the ALI instrument on NASA's EO-1 spacecraft on Dec. 15, 2009. A plume of ash and smoke drifts west, away from the summit. The traces of past eruptions are clearly visible. "Dark-colored lava or debris flows from previous eruptions streak the flanks of the mountain. A ravine on the southeast slope is occupied by a particularly prominent lava or debris flow," NASA writes.

Mayon's perfect conical appearance makes it a popular tourist destination, but is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, erupting 47 times since 1616. On Jan. 13, 2018, an eruption of smoke and ash was recorded in the early morning, with a steady increase in volcanic activity over the following days. By Jan. 23, lava fountains were observed shooting in to the sky and residents were evacuated from their homes.

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Mount Merapi in Indonesia

Photo: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team/ Jesse Allen

In another false-color image from NASA, we see Mount Merapi on June 6, 2006, after a major eruption prompted the evacuation of more than 10,000 area villagers. NASA explains this image: "red indicates vegetation, and the brighter the red, the more robust the plant life. Clouds appear as bright, opaque white, and the volcanic plume appears as a dingy gray cloud blowing toward the southwest." Experts felt that powerful earthquakes in the region prior to the eruption may have contributed to the volcanic blast. Mount Merapi erupted again in late 2010, killing more than 350 people.

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Mount Belinda in the South Sandwich Islands

Photo: NASA/Jesse Allen/Earth Observatory/HIGP Thermal Alerts Team

This false-color image comes from Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands, which are located between South America and Antarctica. Mount Belinda was inactive until late 2001, when it began erupting. The image was taken on Sept. 23, 2005, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) riding NASA's Terra satellite. As NASA describes the image, "red indicates hot areas, blue indicates snow, white indicates steam, and gray indicates volcanic ash." Steam is sent up in a plume from where the hot lava meets the ocean.

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Virunga chain of central Africa


This false-color image was taken in 1994 from Space Shuttle Endeavor. The dark area at the top of the image is Lake Kivu, which borders Congo on the right and Rwanda on the left. The center of the image shows the Nyiragongo volcano, its central crater now a lava lake. To the left are three volcanoes, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Muhavura, according to NASA. The Nyamuragira volcano is to their right. The endangered mountain gorillas of Africa live in a bamboo forest near the southern flank of Mount Karisimbi.

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Grimsvotn in Iceland

Photo: NASA, GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response Team

This natural-color image was taken on May 21, 2011, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite. "Lingering snow is visible beneath the clouds to the northeast (upper left). Brown ash covers a portion of the Vatnajokull Glacier near the Atlantic coast (lower right)," writes NASA. This eruption was not as powerful as the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010, which notoriously disrupted international air travel for weeks. Grimsvotn is the most active volcano in Iceland as it is active in the center of a rift zone.

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Santa Ana in El Salvador

Photo: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS/U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team/Robert Simmon

This false-color image was taken on Feb. 3, 2001, by the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite. The Santa Ana volcano is on the left side with the flat-topped mound. Further, "a tiny blue spot in the center of the inner-most crater is a crater lake, the likely source of the boiling water flood," writes NASA. On Oct. 1, 2005, this volcano erupted, spewing ash as high as 8 1/2 miles into the air. The eruption killed two people via landslides in the town of Palo Campana while forcing thousands to evacuate.

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Cotopaxi in Ecuador

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

This image was taken on Feb. 19, 2000, by Space Shuttle Endeavor as it mapped elevations on the Earth’s surface. Mount Cotopaxi is prolific in its eruptions, having done so as many as 50 times since 1738. Of the image, "blue and green correspond to the lowest elevations in the image, while beige, orange, red, and white represent increasing elevations," writes NASA. Located in the Andes mountain chain, Cotopaxi is known as the world's highest continuously active volcano. It last erupted in 2016.

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Cleveland in the Aleutian Islands

Photo: NASA

This photo was taken on May 23, 2006, by flight engineer Jeff Williams on board the International Space Station. As NASA describes the photo, "This picture shows the ash plume moving west-southwest from the volcano’s summit. A bank of fog (upper right) is a common feature around the Aleutian Islands." NASA further shares that the event didn’t last long, since two hours later the plume had disappeared. The Cleveland Volcano erupted again in 2011 in an event described as a "slow effusion of magma" by John Power, an expert at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Its most recent volcanic activity, consisting of small explosions, occurred Feb. 3, 2017.

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Augustine in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Photo: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

This image was taken on Jan. 31, 2006, during a period of “episodic” emissions of steam and ash plumes. It "shows three volcanic flows down the north flank of Augustine as white (hot) areas," writes NASA. On Feb. 8, 2006, five ocean-bottom seismometers were deployed in the area to assist the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) in studying the eruption. These seismometers were used because this volcano, like many others, is often hard to see on Earth because of weather. Consequently, we are left to appreciate even more the contributions NASA has been able to make to volcanic study.