Volcano Watch: Pele’s hairs: a beautiful hazard on Hawaii Island

USGS photo A tumbleweed of Pele’s hairs — collected near Saddle Road on Nov. 29 — viewed under a microscope. The scale bar in the lower right is 750 micrometers (0.03 inches) wide. The golden-brown glass strands are intertwined, whereas the thicker dark glass is rigid. The shape of the darker glass reflects the shape of the lava droplets as they quenched.

USGS photo Pele's hair covered much of the ground in the area immediately downwind of Halema‘uma‘u crater during the lava lake eruption of 2008–2018. Accumulations about 1 meter (1 yard) wide were typically found on the windward sides of curbs in the closed Halema‘uma‘u parking lot. Photo taken May 3, 2012.

Shiny and elusive, featherlight and golden-brown. If poets were to write about rocks, I’m sure they would sing their praises of Pele’s hairs. Don’t be fooled, though, because Pele’s hairs are strands of volcanic glass, and they can pose a serious hazard.