Explainer: Mount Etna puts on its latest spectacular show

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AP

Flames and smoke billowing from a crater, as seen from the southern side of the Mt Etna volcano, tower over the city of Pedara, Sicily, Wednesday night, Feb. 24, 2021. Europe's most active volcano has been steadily erupting since last week, belching smoke, ash, and fountains of red-hot lava. (AP Photo/Salvatore Allegra)

ROME – Mount Etna, the volcano that towers over eastern Sicily, evokes superlatives. It is Europe’s most active volcano and also the continent’s largest.

And the fiery, noisy show of power it puts on for days or weeks, even years every so often, is always super spectacular. Fortunately, Etna’s latest eruption captivating the world's attention has caused neither injuries nor evacuation.

But each time it roars back into dramatic action, it wows onlookers and awes geologists who spend their careers monitoring its every quiver, rumble and belch.

WHAT'S HAPPENING NOW?

On Feb. 16, Etna erupted, sending up high fountains of lava, which rolled down the mountain's eastern slope toward the uninhabited Bove Valley, which is five kilometers (three miles) wide and eight kilometers (five miles) long. The volcano has belched out ash and lava stones that showered the southern side.

The activity has been continuing since, in bursts more or less intense. The flaming lava lights up the night sky in shocking hues of orange and red. There's no telling how long this round of exciting activity will last, say volcanologists who work at the Etna Observatory run by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

While public fascination began with the first dramatic images this month, the explosive activity began in September 2019, becoming much stronger two months ago. The current activity principally involves the south-east crater, which was created in 1971 from a series of fractures.

HARD TO MISS