Satellite spots glowing lava inside erupting Hawaiian volcano

a volcanic caldera surrounded by mud flows and green vegetation, as seen in a satellite photo
An eruption of Kilauea, Hawaii's youngest and most active volcano, on Jan. 11, 2023 as seen by the Landsat 8 satellite. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS photograph by K. Lynn.)

Lava and smoke shine brightly in a fresh satellite image of an erupting Hawaiian volcano.

Kilauea, based on Hawaii's Big Island nearby the volcano Mauna Loa, has been erupting again since Jan. 5 and its fresh activity glows in a Landsat 8 satellite image taken on Jan. 11.

Activity extending from September 2021 to December 2022 already had created a lake of lava surrounding Kilauea, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. "Kilauea has erupted almost continuously from 1983 until 2018, when a months-long eruption created slow-moving lava flows that destroyed around 700 homes," NASA's Earth Observatory wrote in a statement (opens in new tab) Tuesday (Jan. 17). 

"Since the 2018 eruption, Kilauea has been erupting sporadically," the observatory added. "These recent eruptions have been contained within the Halema'uma'u crater as lakes of lava."

Related: Space volcanoes: Origins, variants and eruptions

It appears that Kilauea and Mauna Loa have volcanic activity that influences the other caldera, even though the volcanoes don't share a connection, but that relationship is not firmly established yet.

"When Mauna Loa is frequently active, Kilauea tends to be less active, and vice versa," Jim Kauahikaua, a volcanologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, told the New York Times (opens in new tab) in November 2022.

Hawaii's Big Island volcanoes include Mauna Kea (top center) Mauna Loa (center) and Kilauea, whose Pu'u 'O'o cone is outlined in red. The image was taken in February 2002 with NASA's Terra satellite. (Image credit: Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC)

Lava bursts in Halema'uma'u crater have been reaching as high as 50 meters (164 feet) high amid the new outburst, especially in the hours after the eruption began on Jan. 5, NASA added.

Landsat 8's image with its Operational Land Imager instrument is a combination of natural color and, to better highlight the heat signature of the lava, infrared wavelengths. Most of the eruption during the imaging period Jan. 11 was in the eastern part of Halema'uma'u, NASA reported.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace