Pele’s hair When you first look at the pictures below, perhaps…

Pele’s hair

When you first look at the pictures below, perhaps you might think about straw or hair, but in reality, what you are seeing is Pele’s hair, which is a strange form of molten lava. Its name comes from the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, wind, dance and volcanoes, named Pele.

Pele’s hair forms when droplets of flying molten lava are stretched into very thin threads that resemble hair. This type of molten lava is typically formed in lava mountains, lava cascades and dynamic lava flows. The molten lava is stretched thinner than a millimeter, sometimes as thin as a human hair, and it can be as long as 2 meters. Pele’s hair is really lightweight and because of that, these volcanic glass fibers are commonly carried away by the wind for several kilometers. Pele’s hair has been found hanging in high places such as the top of electric poles or trees.

Despite the name’s origin, Pele’s hair has also been found near other volcanoes, such as the Masaya (in Nicaragua) and the Erta’Ale (in Ethiopia).

Something curious is that sometimes, Pele’s hair is found intertwined with little blobs of hardened volcanic glass, which is called Pele’s tears. These tears are formed in a similar manner as Pele’s hair. The difference between both is the velocity of the erupting lava: if it is high, we obtain Pele’s hair, but on the other end, the result are tears if the velocity is slow.

Although quite pretty and intriguing, we should not handle Pele’s hair with bare hands, since the fibers are quite brittle and really sharp. You would definitely not want to have broken pieces of volcanic fibers stuck into your skin, so gloves are highly recommended.



Photo credits: – vintage 1930s tourist specimen; unrecorded eruption date and location – photo by NASA/GSFC/Andrea Jones – photo by Matthew Patrick – photo by Ji-Elle

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