Mount Etna's fiery eruptions seen from space (satellite photos)

Mount Etna erupts, as seen from space on Feb. 18, 2021.  (Image credit: Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey)

Mount Etna has been spewing lava across Sicily for weeks during a series of eruptions captured by a slew of Earth-orbiting satellites.

Etna, the most active volcano in all of Europe, has been in a state of eruption since 2011. The latest series began on Feb. 16. The volcano erupted that day, again on Feb. 18 and then again between Feb. 20 and 23. During these eruptions, fountains of lava shot high into the night sky, reaching 0.4 miles (0.7 kilometers) high earlier in the month and getting 0.9 miles (1.5 km) over the volcano's summit later in the month.

These most recent eruptions "were among the most violent in the Southeast Crater's young history," Marco Neri, a volcanologist with Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, said in a NASA statement

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Earth-observing satellites were keen to check out the smoke, ash and lava flung out by the volcano. On Feb. 18, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat 8 satellite snapped a natural color view of the volcano, which was overlaid with infrared data to show the warm areas (or spots where lava had broken through). 

In this image taken from space, you can see Mount Etna in Italy, one of the most active volcanoes in the entire world, erupting. The image was captured Feb. 18 by the European Space Agency's Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, which is made up of two different orbiting, Earth-observing satellites. The volcano erupted twice within less than 48 hours, spewing ash and spouting a fountain of lava, erupting Feb. 16 and then again Feb. 18. (Image credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Also on Feb. 18, the European Space Agency's Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, which is made up of two satellites, observed the eruption. The European satellites captured a moment that, using infrared imaging, showed the lava in bright orange and red. 

Mount Etna erupting on Feb. 23, 2021, as seen by VIIRS on NOAA-20.  (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Joint Polar Satellite System)

A few days later, as Etna was erupting again on Feb. 23, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's NOAA-20 satellite snapped an image with its  VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) instrument that highlights the plumes coming from the volcano. 

Landsat 8 observed the volcano again on Feb. 25, this time at night. Using thermal and shortwave infrared bands, it was able to show the lava down below based on the heat coming off of it. 

While these recent eruptions were impressive, they caused minor disruptions rather than major damage to the surrounding area, according to the NASA statement. Ash coming from Etna temporarily closed the Catania Airport and was deposited across Sicily, for example, and local residents had to deal with falling ash and rocks. 

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Chelsea Gohd joined as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music, singing, playing guitar and performing with her band Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.