Lava hadn’t flowed from the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island for almost four decades, but that all changed late on Sunday night.
The biggest active volcano on earth suddenly began erupting at 11:30 p.m. local time, sending fiery lava into the air and oozing down the volcano’s side.
There had been some signs that an eruption was brewing following a series of earthquakes that began beneath the volcano in September as more magma began pushing upward into the summit reservoir.
The volcano has erupted 33 times since record-keeping began in 1843, with the most recent prior eruption lasting over three weeks in 1984. Some of those lava flows made it within 4.5 miles of Hilo, the island's biggest town.
This time, there doesn’t yet appear to be a risk to residents or homes on the island, according to updates from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. The flow is concentrated on the northeast side or “rift zone,” which is less steep than the volcano’s other side, so it will be a while before the slow-moving lava potentially poses a threat to structures.
Residents, though, have been advised to stay alert, especially given that volcanic gas and ash, as well as very fine stands of molten lava known as Pele’s hair, can be carried downwind.
With some of the volcano fissures sending sprays of lava up to 200 feet in the air, photos from the scene have been fairly incredible.