Mt. Etna, Europe's Most Active Volcano, Erupts; Explosions Heard Miles Away [VIDEO]

By Ben Wolford on November 24, 2013 1:50 PM EST

Italy's Mount Etna erupted again this month.
Italy's Mount Etna erupted again this month.

Europe's most active volcano erupted again this month, causing little damage but offering gorgeous views of molten magma spewing into the night sky. Mt. Etna, on the eastern side of the Italian island of Sicily, erupted overnight on Sept.16-17, the second lava blast in less than a month.

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It illuminated the sky and closed airspace over the mountain, but the explosion did not shut down the airport in Catania, a city of 300,000 to the south of its peak, the Christian Science Monitor reported. According to LiveScience, Etna has the longest record of continuous eruption, with the last major blast rocking the countryside in 1992. In that eruption, several homes and fields were consumed by lava flow. The U.S. Marines were called in to drop concrete barricades by helicopter to divert the lava into a hastily dug channel, saving the village of Zafferana (a mere 30 kilometers away from the volcano) from complete destruction.

Before that, without military intervention, Mt. Etna eruptions in 1960 and 1928 destroyed wide swaths of property. An eruption in 1669 wiped out 10 towns and reached the city walls of Catania. According to some reports, at least 20,000 people died in that eruption. In recent history, however, Etna has been far less deadly.

The CS Monitor reports that this time, no evacuations or lava diversions were necessary. But the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program, which monitors several of the most active volcanoes in the world, reported "pulsating lava fountains, emission of lava flows" that spread south and northeast. It also produced an eruption column, a powerful upward draft of emissions. It then collapsed on itself, forming what's called a pyroclastic cloud, essentially a shockwave. "The episode ended with a long series of powerful explosions and loud bangs heard tens of kilometers away," the Smithsonian said.

The eruption produced explosions that could be heard miles away.
The eruption produced explosions that could be heard miles away.

Etna is one of 16 so-called Decade Volcanoes, a designation from the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior. Those 16 volcanoes were selected for close observation because they erupt often and in close proximity to cities; it's part of a United Nations effort to understand natural disasters and preventing them from affecting populations.

Mt. Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy, is another. And Mt. Ranier, in Washington, which hasn't blown its top since the 19th century, is also on the list. It's still active and considered the most dangerous volcano in the United States. Mauna Loa, which last erupted in Hawaii in 1984, is also on the list. Mt. Saint Helens isn't considered a Decade Volcano, despite that its 1980 eruption killed 57 people.

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