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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The Most Active Volcano You’ve Never Heard Of

By Phil Plait

In the extreme northeast region of Russia is the Kamchatka Peninsula. Familiar to people who play the board game Risk, Kamchatka is a huge mass of land sticking out into the north Pacific, and sitting on the peninsula is a cluster of volcanoes, some of them among the most active on the planet.

The biggest of these is Klyuchevskaya Sopka, a monster stratovolcano towering over 4750 meters (15,500 feet) high. Itâs also the most active, having been more-or-less erupting continuously since the late 1600s. Itâs erupted a dozen times just since 2000!

On Oct. 20, 2013, the Landsat 8 Earth-observing satellite flew over Klyuchevskaya, capturing a tremendously long plume of ash as well as two separate lava flows moving down the volcanoâs flanks:

That picture is a combination of green light, near infrared (just outside what the human eye can detect) and shortwave infrared (at a wavelength of around two microns, well outside what our eyes see). The heat from the lava shows up as glowing red (obviously) while snow and ice look green. The plume is a white-gray, as are the clouds just to the north (above) the volcano mouth.

The narrower lava flow to the west (left) ends in a small plume of water vapor, where it hits the ice. I suspect that plume is nearly vertical; you can see its shadow just to the north.

This picture is just one small part of a much larger, stunning image from Landsat. Hereâs the whole thing, shrunk down quite a bit to fit here:

You really should check that out full size. The plume stretches east for dozens of kilometers, blown over the Pacific by winds. There's also a phenomenal image of it taken using visible light, too.

Klyuchevskaya is breath-takingly photogenic; Iâve written about space-based pictures of it many times before (see Related Posts, below, for more incredible shots of it). Itâs the tallest active volcano in Eurasia â which doesnât surprise me; I live near a lot of enormous mountains that are 4000 meters tall or higher, and Klyuchevskaya is taller than any of them. Itâs magnificent.

Itâs funny: I keep wanting to call this volcano âremoteâ. Thatâs my western hemisphere bias showing, I think. Certainly, Kamchatka has some forbidding terrain and is far from major cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but over a quarter million people like there. Russiaâs an amazing place, so huge, and I strongly suspect most Americans know very little about it. For example, you probably had never heard of the city of Chelyabinsk before Feb. 15, 2013, when a chunk of asteroid exploded over the area and shattered windows across the town. Yet Chelyabinsk has well over a million people in it!

Just as likely youâre never heard of Klyuchevskaya, either. Yet, clearly, itâs one of the most magnificent places on Earth.

What else havenât we heard of? What other wonders await us if we just get a little bit more curious about this planet on which we live?

Related Posts

Satellite View of a Volcanic Pressure Valve
Volcano on Volcano Action
Sunrise Eruption (with a gallery of fantastic volcano pictures. You want to see this.)

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