Dramatic video provides a new look inside a highly active Hawaiian volcano. On Friday morning, a rockfall on the east rim of the summit vent in Kilauea Volcano's Halemaumau Crater set off a small explosion.
Such natural fireworks are most common when the level of the lake of molten lava is high, reports the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which monitors the site. Recently, the lake has been around 100-115 feet (30-35 meters) below the rim of the volcano.
The high heat of the lava destabilizes the rocks in the crater rim. When they can't take any more, they break off, sometimes causing explosions. On Friday, hot material boiled out of the crater as high as 360 feet (110 meters).
"Rockfalls and subsequent explosive events occur with no warning, and the resulting fragments of hot lava and rocky debris thrown onto the crater rim pose a significant hazard in this area," the USGS reports.
A shield volcano with a cinder cone on top, Kilauea is the most active volcano in Hawaii (learn more about the mountain.) It is also one of the most studied volcanoes in the world. Most of its eruptions have been relatively gentle lava flows, but every few decades or centuries, a more powerful eruption sends debris over the surrounding area. The mountain has an elevation of 4,091 feet (1,247 meters) and its shield is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) long and 15 miles (24 kilometers) wide.
Native Hawaiians traditionally associated the volcano with the fire goddess Pele, who was thought to have created the islands.