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‘Coolest’ lava rock found at Kilauea

  • USGS/ Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
This hollow volcanic rock is about a half-inch long and was found on the rim of Halemaumau Crater after a rockfall and explosion ejected particles to the rim on Jan. 8.
    USGS/ Hawaiian Volcano Observatory This hollow volcanic rock is about a half-inch long and was found on the rim of Halemaumau Crater after a rockfall and explosion ejected particles to the rim on Jan. 8.
  • USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
A rockfall within the Overlook vent at the summit of Kilauea generated a small explosive event at 3:18 a.m. in this webcam image.  Incandescence from molten lava exposed by the disrupted lava lake surface lit up the vent wall and the night sky above Halemaumau Crater.
    USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY A rockfall within the Overlook vent at the summit of Kilauea generated a small explosive event at 3:18 a.m. in this webcam image. Incandescence from molten lava exposed by the disrupted lava lake surface lit up the vent wall and the night sky above Halemaumau Crater.
  • USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
The lava lake in Halemaumau Crater was at a relatively high level, about 114 feet below the crater floor, on Jan. 7, the day before a section of rock fell in to the lake and caused an explosion.
    USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY The lava lake in Halemaumau Crater was at a relatively high level, about 114 feet below the crater floor, on Jan. 7, the day before a section of rock fell in to the lake and caused an explosion.
  • USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
A rockfall on the east rim of the summit vent within Kīlauea Volcano's Halemaʻumaʻu Crater triggered a small explosive event at 3:51 a.m.on Jan. 8. Explosive events like this occur more frequently when the lava lake level is relatively high, as it has been in the last week -- about 100 to 115 feet below the vent rim.
    USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY A rockfall on the east rim of the summit vent within Kīlauea Volcano's Halemaʻumaʻu Crater triggered a small explosive event at 3:51 a.m.on Jan. 8. Explosive events like this occur more frequently when the lava lake level is relatively high, as it has been in the last week -- about 100 to 115 feet below the vent rim.
  • The rim of Halemaumʻu Crater was covered in a nearly continuous blanket of lava fragments following an early morning rockfall and explosion on Jan. 8. Two backpacks (in background), which belong to HVO scientists who briefly entered the area to collect samples, provide scale for the fragments hurled onto the crater rim.
    The rim of Halemaumʻu Crater was covered in a nearly continuous blanket of lava fragments following an early morning rockfall and explosion on Jan. 8. Two backpacks (in background), which belong to HVO scientists who briefly entered the area to collect samples, provide scale for the fragments hurled onto the crater rim.
  • USGS/ HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
                                This hollow volcanic rock is about a half-inch long and was found on the rim of Halemaumau Crater after a rockfall and explosion ejected particles to the rim on Jan. 8.

    USGS/ HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

    This hollow volcanic rock is about a half-inch long and was found on the rim of Halemaumau Crater after a rockfall and explosion ejected particles to the rim on Jan. 8.

  • USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
                                The lava lake in Halemaumau Crater was at a relatively high level, about 114 feet below the crater floor, on Jan. 7, the day before a section of rock fell in to the lake and caused an explosion.

    USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

    The lava lake in Halemaumau Crater was at a relatively high level, about 114 feet below the crater floor, on Jan. 7, the day before a section of rock fell in to the lake and caused an explosion.

  • USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
                                A rockfall on the east rim of the summit vent within Kīlauea Volcano’s Halemaʻumaʻu Crater triggered a small explosive event at 3:51 a.m.on Jan. 8.

    USGS/HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

    A rockfall on the east rim of the summit vent within Kīlauea Volcano’s Halemaʻumaʻu Crater triggered a small explosive event at 3:51 a.m.on Jan. 8.

  • USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
                                The rim of Halemaumʻu Crater was covered in a nearly continuous blanket of lava fragments following an early morning rockfall and explosion on Jan. 8. Two backpacks (in background), which belong to HVO scientists who briefly entered the area to collect samples, provide scale for the fragments hurled onto the crater rim.

    USGS / HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY

    The rim of Halemaumʻu Crater was covered in a nearly continuous blanket of lava fragments following an early morning rockfall and explosion on Jan. 8. Two backpacks (in background), which belong to HVO scientists who briefly entered the area to collect samples, provide scale for the fragments hurled onto the crater rim.

A Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist has found what may be one of the coolest lava rocks ever following a rockfall and explosion at Kilauea last week.

“It’s an incredibly curious thing,” said Tim Orr, a geologist with the observatory. “Nothing like this has been seen before.”

The black, glassy volcanic object is about the size and shape of a Pele’s tear — oval and about a half-inch long — but it is hollow inside — like a lava eggshell.

“The fact that it is hollow is what is really interesting,” Orr said.

Scientists posted a picture on the observatory website and initially described the object as the “Coolest Pele’s Tear ever!”

But Orr, who found the object while collecting samples on the rim of Halemaumau Crater on Jan. 8, said it may have been formed by a different process than Pele’s Tears.

“I have nothing else that I can call it,” Orr said. “I don’t know how it could have formed.”

Pele’s tears are formed when small bits of molten lava in fountains quickly cool and form small, solid glass particles shaped like tear drops. They are often found at the end of a strand of Pele’s hair, which are thin strings of volcanic glass.

Observatory scientists posted videos of the event that likely caused the object to form. A video, taken at about at about 3:51 a.m. from a webcamera on the rim of Halemaumau, shows volcanic fragments shooting into the air after a section of wall fell into the lava lake on the crater floor, causing an explosion.

Volcanic rock fragments from the explosion flew about 360 feet to the rim of Halemaumau from the lake, about 100 feet below the crater floor.

The fragments range in size from dust-sized particles to rocks more than a yard in diameter.

Orr speculates that the object may have formed after the initial collapse explosion, while the lava lake was still unsettled and sending spatter into the air.

“That it survived is pretty remarkable,” Orr said.

Janet Babb, the public information officer at the observatory, said the object is “very small and quite fragile. One wrong touch and it could be in pieces.”

Orr said the object will be placed in a display case in the lobby of the observatory and will continue to be studied.

The lobby is closed to the general public. But school and other groups occasionally come to the observatory for educational visits and will be able to see it, Babb said.

Babb said similar lava bubbles have formed on cooling flows. But she’s never seen a bubble of lava detached from the flow.

“To my knowledge, it’s the only thing like it that has ever formed,” Orr said.

“This is why we love science,” Babb said. “We’re trying to figure out the unknown.”

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