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article imagePele's hair — A geological phenomena that can harm you

By Karen Graham     May 30, 2018 in Science
The latest eruptions at Kilauea’s east rift zone have been producing some awe-inspiring geological phenomena that are literally changing the landscape. However, health officials are warning of a new hazard - Pele's Hair.
More than 70 homes have been destroyed by the relentless flow of lava, and molten rock has forced the closure of Highway 132, a major artery for people who live in the area. The highway also leads to the main access road for the area's geothermal power plant.
Prior to the latest rounds of eruptions, the Civil Defense Agency released a warning about the conditions caused by the ongoing eruptions and flows. The eruptions were causing power outages, and harmful gases were entering the atmosphere. The volcanic gases, along with debris falling from the sky present a health hazard.
The USGS issued an update on fissure 8, saying that lightweight volcanic glass was entering the sky from the fissure. which was spewing lava as high as 200 feet in the air. The USGS says the wind has been picking up the volcanic glass and moving it downwind and to the west of the fissure.
The  central crater of Kilauea  Halemaumau  is according to Hawaiian legends the home of the fire go...
The central crater of Kilauea, Halemaumau, is according to Hawaiian legends the home of the fire goddess Pele. This picture is of the crater in 2009.
Hawaii Volcano Observatory, USGS
The lightweight strands of volcanic glass, known as Pele' hair, can be harmful if picked up bare-handed or if the fibers and pieces get into the eyes. This is because it is glass -basaltic glass, actually.
Pele - The goddess of fire
On Monday night, residents on the Big Island reported Pele's hair was falling in Pahoa. And this is the latest hazard that has come to light since Kilauea began erupting on May 3. The island's residents have been dealing with high levels of sulfur dioxide gas near the fissures, and have been warned to steer clear of those areas along the coast where lava is entering the ocean.
Lava flows from several fissures have been entering the ocean, creating a toxic mix of lava and haze called "laze." Then there is the real risk of being hit by "lava spatter," or projectiles of molten rock. But the term, Pele's hair, conjures up the ancient Hawaiian stories of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, lightning, wind, dance, and volcanoes.
According to legend, Pele's spirit resides in the crater of the Kilauea volcano. And she can appear as a spirit in many forms and is considered a harbinger of misfortune. While not proven on a factual basis, many native Hawaiians say they have had at least one encounter with Pele.
Arthur Johnsen s painting of Pele
Arthur Johnsen's painting of Pele
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
What is Pele's hair?
Pele's hair is actually thin strands of volcanic glass. The strands are formed through the stretching of molten basaltic glass from lava, usually from lava fountains, lava cascades, and vigorous lava flows. Because the strands of glass are so light, they can be carried several miles away from their origin by the winds.
So it is not uncommon to find Pele's hair on high places, like the tops of trees, radio antennas and electric power poles. But Pele's hair can end up landing just about anyplace if she shakes her head fast enough.
Fountaining of lava from fissure 8 have been spewing volcanic glass  also known as Pele s hair.
Fountaining of lava from fissure 8 have been spewing volcanic glass, also known as Pele's hair.
But Pele's hair also occurs in other places in the world. It can be found near volcanoes in other countries, and the glass strands go by other names, like in Nicaragua (Masaya), Italy (Etna), Ethiopia (Erta’ Ale), and Iceland, where it is known as "nornahár" ("witches' hair").
It is recommended that you not try to pick up or collect Pele's hair. It is very brittle and very sharp, and small broken pieces can enter the skin. Gloves should be worn while examining it.
Pele's tears is another phenomena often found during an eruption. They are small pieces of solidified lava drops formed when airborne particles of molten material fuse into tearlike drops of volcanic glass. Pele’s tears are jet black in color and are often found on one end of a strand of Pele's hair. Pele's tears is primarily a scientific term used by volcanologists.
Assorted shapes of Pele s tears collected a few kilometers downwind from Mauna Ulu from along the Hi...
Assorted shapes of Pele's tears collected a few kilometers downwind from Mauna Ulu from along the Hilina Pali Road on Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i.
Jim D. Griggs, HVO (USGS) staff photographer
Volcanologists can learn a lot about an eruption by examining Pele's hair and tears, such as the temperatures and the magma's path to the surface. For example, plagioclase starts to crystallize from the magma of Pele's hair at around 1,160 °C.
Additionally, the shape of the tears can provide an indication of the velocity of the eruption, and the bubbles of gas and particles trapped within the tears can provide information about the composition of the magma chamber.
More about Kilauea Volcano, pele's hair, Evacuations, volcanic glass, geological phenomena
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