Don't touch! Phenomenon known as 'Pele's Hair' possible after Mauna Loa eruption

As Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano awakens from a decades-long slumber, officials are not only warning those in the area about ash fall and airborne gases but also the potential for volcanic glass fibers known as "Pele's Hair."

Pele's Hair is the term given to thin strands of volcanic glass fibers that are formed from gas amid explosions within the turbulent cauldron.


"When bubbles of gas near the surface of a lava flow burst, it can stretch the skin of the molten lava into long threads," according to the U.S. National Park Service. The strands get their name from the Hawaiian volcanic deity known as Pele


A sample of volcanic glass fibers known as "Pele's Hair." (National Park Service / FOX Weather)

The agency says strands of Pele's Hair can stretch out to a couple of feet long but are very thin – measured around 0.001 millimeters.

With the glass strands' light weight, they can be carried by the winds and accumulate in piles like snow drifts – sometimes many inches thick, according to the NPS. 


Prevailing trade winds blow much of the Pele's hair from Kīlauea Volcano's summit lava lake into the Kauai Desert, where it accumulates against gully walls. (USGS / FOX Weather)

Or they can become airborne and threaten aviation, as was one among the advisories by Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency given to nearby pilots Monday with Mauna Loa's eruption.

Pele's Hair also carries dangers to those on the ground. The NPS warns that while the glass strands are brittle, they are also quite sharp and can become lodged in the skin or eyes.

"Caution around the fibers is necessary to avoid injury from the slivers," the NPS warned.

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