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Mount Etna is erupting and astronauts are watching it from space

mount etna
Mount Etna sends a plume visible from space in this Feb. 12, 2022 photo from ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. (Image credit: Matthias Maurer/ESA)

The majestic Mount Etna is erupting so strongly in the Mediterranean that it's catching the attention of the International Space Station (opens in new tab) crew.

Members of Expedition 66 currently in orbit shared some views of space of the highly active volcano, which has erupted dozens of times in the past year alone. 

"@astro_luca's home volcano #Etna is clearly smoking (and spitting lava as I learnt from the news) 🌋," wrote (opens in new tab) European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer on Saturday (Feb. 12), referring to fellow ESA spaceflyer Luca Parmitano, who is from Italy.

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On the Russian side of the space station, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, also sent a report (opens in new tab) down from orbit. "Red-hot lava flows out of the crater, and clouds of ash and smoke are in the sky over Sicily. The activity of the volcano then stops, then resumes with a series of powerful explosions 🌋."

Mount Etna was so active in 2021 that it grew by 100 feet (30 meters) in half a year. Astronauts can assist with satellite observations of natural phenomena such as volcanoes and hurricanes snapping their own photographs from the ISS.

Volcanic plumes can reach very high altitudes and can potentially impact air traffic, while sulfur dioxide closer to the ground can irritate the human respiratory system and trigger asthma or other respiratory conditions.

Mount Etna is believed to be a submarine volcano that popped above sea level after several eruptions, due to solidified lava, according to NASA's Earth Observatory (opens in new tab). The mountain has lava flows over its surface that date to as far back as 300,000 years ago.

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Elizabeth Howell
Live Science Contributor
Elizabeth Howell is a regular contributor to Live Science and Space.com, along with several other science publications. She is one of a handful of Canadian reporters who specializes in space reporting. Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Journalism, Science Concentration at Carleton University (Canada) and an M.Sc. Space Studies (distance) at the University of North Dakota. Elizabeth became a full-time freelancer after earning her M.Sc. in 2012. She reported on three space shuttle launches in person and once spent two weeks in an isolated Utah facility pretending to be a Martian.