The Big Island Smiling Volcano – 3 Incredible Facts

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

Have you seen the Big Island Smiling Volcano?
Last year, one of the world’s most active volcanoes made international headlines for seeming to “smile” during an eruption. The lava at Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island became a news sensation, spurring even more attention toward the active lava flows known as Pu’u O’o.

The smiling lava’s discovery – and the video and photographs that followed – were taken completely by chance. During a flyover of Kilauea, Mick Kalber of Tropical Visions Video on a tour with Paradise Helicopters noticed the formation and engaged his camera, swooping down for a closer look. If he hadn’t been there, the world may have never seen this emoji phenomenon.

Photo by Mick Kalber of Tropical Visions Video

Image: © Mick Kalber/Paradise Helicopters

The Science of the Smiling Volcano
So, beyond the interest the volcanic formation garnered, there are a few scientific facts that explain how and why the volcano grinned for the cameras. Scientists explain that these formations are fairly common, though seeing recognizable patterns in them are rare. As lava lakes circulate and heat up, lava will move up and down on opposite sides, resulting in bubbles that break the surface and cause it to pull apart, forming shapes on the surface. This time, these shapes just happened to form a smiling face.

But, it seems that spotting a face in the bright lava eyes and jack-o-lantern-type grin on the smiling volcano’s small lava crater isn’t a completely new occurrence and this wasn’t the first and probably won’t be the last stunning natural smile captured on film.

Why We See Faces
There is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to see or hear patterns in an image or sound as something significant, it is known as pareidolia. It is a common occurrence and may even be a left over survival instinct allowing humans to recognize friend or foe and other dangers at a distance. There is new science showing that babies respond to face shaped images while ignoring other shapes even while in the womb, indicating that it may be completely instinctual for humans to recognize and respond to faces.

Other Natural Faces
In 2015, the Hubble Space Telescope captured a smiling galaxy cluster through its lens. The galaxy cluster known as SDSS J1038+4849 and astrologers noticed something lighthearted about the image. Two orange eyes and a white nose were visible, as was a somewhat misleading smile (which was actually an arc caused by gravitational lensing). The two eyes were very bright galaxies located adjacent to one another. While it was a cute phenomenon, the discovery actually helped scientists better understand the bending of light as it pertains to Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Nasa Image – Hubble Space Telescope

In 1999, the Mars Orbiter Camera also found an extraterrestrial smile – a cartoonish smiley face in the middle of a massive crater. Known as the Galle Crater, it has a diameter of more than 130 miles, making it one of the largest smiley faces known to man.

Image: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

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