Blowing 'smoke': Mount Etna puts on a show by emitting rare rings into the sky

Tourists in Italy have been treated to quite the show as Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, has been blowing spectacular “smoke rings” into the sky since last week. 

The rare phenomenon, known as “volcanic vortex rings,” is generated by the combination of rapid gas release and the vent shape spewed out of a new crater that opened on Tuesday on Etna’s summit, according to The Associated Press.

Pictures and video show the volcano looking like a chimney blowing out a stream of rings.

“Etna is breaking all previous records,” Boris Behncke, volcanologist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania Boris, explained in a Facebook post. “In the late afternoon of 2 April 2024, a small mouth opened on the north-eastern rim of the South-East Crater, producing puffs of glowing gas. By the next morning it was evident that these puffs were producing an impressive amount of steam rings, and this activity has been going on ever since, having already emitted hundreds if not thousands of these pretty rings.” 

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Etna smoke rings phenomenon

The rings come out of Mount Etna so frequently, it looks like a chimney. (Etna Walk via AP)

Behncke said no volcano on Earth produces as many vapor rings as Etna. 

“Even if a volcano has the capability to create smoke rings, strong winds will prevent them from forming,” the Daily Mail reports. 

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Rare smoke ring at Etna

The ring is not smoke at all, but rather “a rare phenomenon that is generated by the combination of rapid gas release and the vent shape,” The Associated Press says. (Etna Walk via AP)

Etna frequently erupts, most recently in November 2023 when the volcano sent a lava fountain into the air, causing loud booms and explosions, according to FOX Weather.

“Located in the coastal city of Catania, Etna is the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes and the largest active volcano in Europe, according to the European Space Agency,” the outlet states. 

Mount Etna wide shot of rings

“Volcanic vortex rings” can be seen in the sky above Italy’s Mount Etna. (Etna Walk via AP)

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There were no reports of particular disruptions in the surrounding villages or at Catania airport as a result of the “smoke rings.” The airport often closes in the case of major eruptions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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