A spectacular image of a lava bubble in Hawaii quickly gained hundreds of retweets back in April 2018, even though the phenomenon occurred nearly a half-century ago.
The photo was shared on Twitter by the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the popular “Throwback Thursday” social media hashtag. In the image, taken Oct. 11, 1969, the 65-foot-tall Hawaiian lava dome resembles a fiery star colliding with Earth.
The lava that formed this dome originated at the Kilauea Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, according to the Hawaii Center for Volcanology. It has been in an almost constant state of eruption since 1983.
The formation is called a “dome fountain.” This type of bubbling may not be unusual, but symmetrical dome fountains like this one are rare, the USGS says.
“Symmetrical dome fountains such as this are rare,” said the USGS in the tweet.
And in case you’re not sure how high 65 feet is, this is roughly what it might look like for an adult human to be standing next to the dome:
Lava falls higher than American Falls at Niagara begin to fill ‘Alae Crater on August 5, 1969
Lava falls higher than American Falls at Niagara begin to fill ‘Alae Crater on August 5, 1969 following the catastrophic draining on August 4. Renewed fountaining at Mauna Ulu sent lava shown in the photo into ‘Alae, starting to refill the crater. Photo taken from same location as the preceding image. The mezzanine is the lower level, and lava plunges off it into the deeper pit. The total height of the lava falls is more than 100 m (330 ft), and the width more than 300 m (1000 ft). For the two seasoned observers who witnessed this awe-inspiring event, nothing else matched it during the entire Mauna Ulu eruption.
Hundreds of the USGS’s 700,000 followers shared the tweet, and others left comments expressing awe.
“I’m going to ask Santa for one,” said one person.
These lava domes form when thick magma bubbles to the surface and piles up around the vent, according to research from Oregon State University. There isn’t enough pressure to cause a violent eruption, so it piles up instead.
Lava domes can grow as tall as 1,600 feet tall, but usually swell to about 30 to 320 feet, the USGS said.
Photos from the US Geological Survey’s archive demonstrate the impressive nature of the Mauna Ulu eruption of Kilauea Volcano, which lasted from 1969 to 1974.
The only surviving segment of the fissure system active on the first day of the eruption.
The only surviving segment of the fissure system active on the first day of the eruption. View looks west and shows the fissure segments, stepping right, and spatter rampart along right (uphill) side of the segments. No spatter rampart formed on the downhill (left) side of the segments, because falling spatter was carried away by lava flows. Visitors today can view these spatter ramparts along a national park trail. However, lava flows erupted in 1973 have covered part of the area between the ramparts and the road. Cracks visible in photo not associated with spatter ramparts were formed on October 20, 1969
Pool of lava filling a basin 150 m (500 m) wide at the summit of Mauna Ulu on July 29, 1969.
Pool of lava filling a basin 150 m (500 m) wide at the summit of Mauna Ulu on July 29, 1969. This image and the next two illustrate a process called gas pistoning. The pool is fed by lava rising 50 m (160 ft) in 15 minutes up a fissure 3–7 m (10–25 ft) wide. Bubbling is just starting above the fissure, leading to draining. In the background, a separate vent is spattering.
Close-up of right side of lava pool shown in previous image a few seconds later, showing early stage of gas-piston draining.
Close-up of right side of lava pool, showing early stage of gas-piston draining. Pond level has already dropped several meters. During the next 30 seconds the pond level dropped 25-30 m (80–100 ft) as gas escaped from the pond, creating a void immediately filled by the draining lava.
Same view as in previous image, but about 20 seconds later. Now lava is falling into the fissure, destroying sheets of crust in the process.
Same view as in previous image, but about 20 seconds later. Now lava is now falling into the fissure, destroying sheets of crust in the process. When the draining was over, lava level had dropped about 50 m (160 ft). Once draining was complete, lava level again began to slowly rise as it was pushed upward by expanding gas bubbles. Gas pistoning is common in lava ponds and lakes that are continuously supplied with gas.
Small spattering fountain about 8 m (25 ft) high at Mauna Ulu on August 15, 1969.
Small spattering fountain about 8 m (25 ft) high at Mauna Ulu on August 15, 1969. Episodes of high fountains occurred on August 5 and 22, but low-level activity such as this, was almost constant between the episodes of high fountaining in 1969.
Small spattering fountain on August 16, 1969
Small spattering fountain about 8 m (25 ft) high at Mauna Ulu on August 16, 1969.
Vent activity, typical of that in summer and fall 1969 between episodes of high fountaining.
Vent activity, typical of that in summer and fall 1969 between episodes of high fountaining. The spattering is from one of two compartments that contained lava. Typically lava levels in the two compartments were different, and gas pistons might work in both but at different times. These observations indicated that the two compartments were not connected at a shallow depth.
East end of ‘Alae Crater after catastrophic draining on August 4, 1969.
East end of ‘Alae Crater after catastrophic draining on August 4, 1969. The entire crater was nearly full of lava erupted in February 1969 and later by Mauna Ulu, most recently on August 3. Early on August 4, most lava in the crater drained away in about 30 minutes as new ground ruptures opened, possibly because of the weight of the new crater fill, which was about 80 m (260 ft.) deep. This photo, taken at 1530 that afternoon, shows the high lava mark left after the draining and the gash at the location of a large crack (the graben in subsequent images) that carried some of the lava out of the crater
Graben that drained some of the lava out of ‘Alae on August 4, 1969.
Graben that drained some of the lava out of ‘Alae on August 4, 1969. Photo taken on September 24, 1969. The graben, more than 10 m (30 ft) wide and locally more than 70 m (230 ft) deep, extended 800 m (2,600 ft) east-northeast from ‘Alae. and a trough reached 700 m (2,300 ft) farther. It was an older structure but was reactivated during the draining. A 250-m (820-ft) distance across the area where the graben formed had been previously measured precisely by an electronic distance meter, and remeasurement after the draining showed that the line was 2.7 m (8.8 ft) longer! At 1000 on August 4, rocks along the graben and trough were too hot to touch, and vegetation along the graben was killed (brown bushes and defoliated trees in photo). Later, lava spilled into the graben as ‘Alae filled, and in this photo the graben is floored by lava erupted on September 6–7.
West end of ‘Alae Crater, showing exhumed mezzanine, after catastrophic draining on August 4, 1969.
West end of ‘Alae Crater, showing exhumed mezzanine, after catastrophic draining on August 4, 1969. ‘Alae was a double crater, a younger deeper pit (previous photo) cutting through the floor of an older pit; this floor was termed the “mezzanine.” This photo, taken from the visitor overlook on the south rim of the crater at about 1545 that afternoon, shows the mezzanine, exhumed by the draining of the crater. Masses of semisolid lava as large as houses were slowly sliding across the mezzanine and into the remaining lava in the older pit.