On May 3rd, an eruption began in the lower East Rift Zone of the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea. The volcano continues to spew lava across the surface over a month later, destroying many homes in the process. While these eruptions are great and terrible to witness, they are also extremely valuable scientifically. Not only do they tell us about the Earth’s subsurface, but they also provide insight into the way lava flows modify a surface, providing a rare opportunity to observe volcanic features as they form. In the case of planetary science, Hawaiian-style volcanism is particularly useful for the study of the Moon and Mars, which both display volcanic features analogous in morphology and composition to the Hawaiian volcanoes. For example, the lunar maria are thought to have formed through fissure-fed volcanic eruptions very similar to those currently erupting from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii: Check out a fissure eruption in action!
To learn more about the current eruption, see the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory site here.