Towering nearly 11,000 feet (3,350 meters) over the island of Sicily, Europe's tallest and most active volcano began trembling Tuesday afternoon, seismologists told the OurAmazingPlanet news site. Wednesday and Thursday saw flames and ash flung hundreds of yards into the sky, closing down area airports.
Photograph by Antonio Parrinello, Reuters
Lava heads for the sea as Mount Etna erupts Wednesday night on Sicily.
Though spectacular, this week's lava fountains aren't exactly a surprise. "We expected Etna to return to activity in this period," volcanologist Boris Behncke told OurAmazingPlanet. "There had been lots of premonitory signals."
The vent that spewed the lava pictured had out on smaller shows around Christmas and New Year's, Behncke added.
Photograph courtesy ANSA via European Pressphoto Agency
Lavafall on Etna
Lava pours from a pit crater high up Mount Etna Wednesday night. Despite its nearly constant activity, the Sicilian volcano rarely causes harm, since its eruptions occur so high up and its lava moves relatively slowly.
In a National Geographic file photo from 2002, a scientist in a full thermal suit collects lava atop Mount Etna.
Such samples may offer clues to why the Italian volcano has grown increasingly active in the last 50 years. Recent tests, for example, revealed a mineral that hasn't been seen in Etna's lava for 15,000—suggesting a deep new lava source may be fanning the flames, National Geographic magazine reported in 2002.
As two brave souls gaze on, red ash and lava billow nearly a mile (1.6 kilometers) into the sky from Mount Etna in July 2001.
The volcanic cloud had exploded from a brand new fissure that, only four days before, was still studded with wildflowers, National Geographic magazine reported in 2002.
Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic
A centuries-old illustration shows Etna's deadliest known eruption, which sent rivers of lava streaming into the Ionian Sea in 1669.
The Sicilian giant has captivated Mediterranean minds at least since the classical era, when Plato sailed from Greece just for a peek at it in 387, B.C. and when—legend has it—Odysseus dodged boulders hurled by a Cyclops.