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'Pele's Braids' Seen in Lava on Hawaiian Volcano

'Pele's braids' seen in the lava on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano.
'Pele's braids' seen in the lava on Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. (Image credit: Lavaloverbo/YouTube)

A fresh flow of lava oozed from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano yesterday (Feb. 23), showing a unique swirling pattern in the cooling lava called "Pele's braids."

Pele is the god of fire in Hawaiian mythology. He lives inside Kilauea, and when he gets angry, the volcano roars, according legend. A band of ancient warriors were en route to battle near the summit of Kilauea more than 200 years ago when Pele got angry. Very angry.

Searing rocks exploded from Kilauea's summit crater and a thick current of lava surged toward the warriors, propelled by hurricane-force winds.  More than 400 people died, according to historical estimates, in the deadliest volcanic eruption in what is now the United States.

These kinds of eruptions are few and far between on Kilauea. Its name means "spewing" or "much spreading" in Hawaiian and the volcano has been continually oozing out lava since Jan. 3, 1983. People often walk near these sluggish rivers of lava that flow down the mountain's slopes and into the ocean. These "gentle eruptions" are rarely a threat unless people are doing something foolish, like treading too close to the hot lava. Occasionally though, the lava will slowly consume houses in its path. 

Yesterday, a cameraman got close enough to a fresh lava flow to film Pele's braids, as seen in the above video. The video was shot at about 2,000 feet (600 meters) above sea level, amid the lava beds. The lava is pouring from the Pu`u `? `? crater. The shiny and smooth lava is called p?hoehoe lava.

Volcanic craters are large holes created by volcanic activity. Inside of craters are vents that erupt lava.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.