Since Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano violently erupted on May 3, roughly 2,000 people have been forced to evacuate. Newly released images from NASA’s Terra satellite show the volcanic fissures on the island in terrifying yet mesmerizing detail.
The pictures, taken on May 6 with the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument on Terra, show large amounts of ash from the eruption’s aftermath.
“The red areas are vegetation, and the black and gray areas are old lava flows,” NASA explains, in reference to the image below. “The yellow areas superimposed over the image show hot spots that were detected by ASTER’s thermal infrared bands. These hot spots are the newly formed fissures and new lava flow as of May 6.”
A second image shows sulfur dioxide gas released from the eruption released from the eruption, which can be seen in the patches of yellow and green. Sulfur dioxide is extremely toxic; when it’s breathed in, a person can feel short of breath. High levels of sulfur dioxide and “lava-oozing fissures” were the primary reasons people had to evacuate, NASA reports.
Kilauea is Hawaii’s most active volcano. According to Reuters, lava from various fissures has already destroyed at least 36 homes and businesses. The United States Geological Survey is concerned this is just the beginning of the mayhem from Kilauea; in mid-May, the volcano could start shooting rocks from its crater. It could also cover surrounding towns in ash.
True to its name, which means “spewing” in Hawaiian, Kilauea has been active since 1983. It is the youngest and most southeastern volcano on the big island, encompassing about 14 percent of the land on Hawaii. According to Hawaiian mythology, Pele, the goddess of fire, lives in Kīlauea’s Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.
At this point, it’s still unclear when Kilauea will stop erupting. Evacuees hope to return home in about two weeks, but there’s no telling if this is just the beginning of even more volcanic or seismic activity to come. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokesperson Janet Babb told recently told Reuters that lava flowing from the volcanic fissures could last “for weeks or months.” Fissures are still stretching further east on the island.