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Mount Etna is erupting and astronauts are watching it from space

Mount Etna sends out a plume visible from space in this Feb. 12, 2022, photo from ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer.
Mount Etna sends out a plume visible from space in this Feb. 12, 2022, photo from ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. (Image credit: Matthias Maurer/ESA)

The majestic Mount Etna is erupting so strongly in the Mediterranean that it's catching the attention of the International Space Station crew.

Members of Expedition 66 currently in orbit shared some views of space of the highly active volcano, which has erupted dozens of times in the past year alone. 

"@astro_luca's home volcano #Etna is clearly smoking (and spitting lava as I learnt from the news) 🌋," wrote (opens in new tab) European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer on Saturday (Feb. 12), referring to fellow ESA spaceflyer Luca Parmitano, who is from Italy.

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On the Russian side of the space station, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, also sent a report (opens in new tab) down from orbit. "Red-hot lava flows out of the crater, and clouds of ash and smoke are in the sky over Sicily. The activity of the volcano then stops, then resumes with a series of powerful explosions 🌋."

Mount Etna was so active in 2021 that it grew by 100 feet (30 meters) in half a year. Astronauts can assist with satellite observations of natural phenomena such as volcanoes and hurricanes snapping their own photographs from the ISS.

Volcanic plumes can reach very high altitudes and can potentially impact air traffic, while sulfur dioxide closer to the ground can irritate the human respiratory system and trigger asthma or other respiratory conditions.

Mount Etna is believed to be a submarine volcano that popped above sea level after several eruptions, due to solidified lava, according to NASA's Earth Observatory (opens in new tab). The mountain has lava flows over its surface that date to as far back as 300,000 years ago.

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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. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.