Is Europe's tallest active volcano, Mount Etna, displaying its wrath in 2013? Its current eruption is the sixth this year. It is a wonder that conspiracy theorists have not tied Etna's activity to the pope's retirement from office or other world events. Italy's Mount Etna has erupted 24 times since 2011. At 11,000 feet tall any eruption is spectacular. It can be viewed even at a distance. What has triggered this particularly active phase is not clear. What is known is that "Etna's eruptions are caused by the African tectonic plate sliding below the Eurasian plate. The Eurasian plate is melting as it moves downwards and hot magma is being forced up to the surface". It does not sound as if any resolution is possible.
Live Science has some interesting images of the eruption viewed from Space. The images are from Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, who Live Science call "the planet's most popular space shutterbug".
At time of writing there are no official warnings issued and the airport at Catania remains open. The amount of lava and ash spewed into the air by Etna could in time pose a serious health concern.
We visited Sicily on a day-trip from Malta in September 1991, if my memory serves me well. We visited Taormina where we glimpsed Etna in all its glory. The volcano was calm and looked like a huge mountain, and nothing more.
No visit to Sicily is complete though without at least a partial trip up Mount Etna. Our coach began the journey. In parts the volcano resembled a slag or coal heap. Cinders covered the landscape yet there, halfway up the volcano, were a row of tourist shops. Pricey tourist shops, at that.
The shops were small and made out of wood. This seemed a foolish choice, given Etna's track record of eruptions. They looked a little like small Swiss chalets but they had wheels underneath. At first sign of an eruption these shops were hastily moved away. It was a reminder that Etna is not always a safe place to visit.
As we boarded our vessel back to Malta we looked back at Etna, whose presence dominates the skyline, and saw a small but steady stream of smoke or steam spewing out of the summit. Sure enough the next day there was an eruption. Boy were we glad we had visited the previous day.
Chris Hadfield member of the Canadian Space Agency, is aboard the International Space Station. He regularly posts amazing images of Earth on his Twitter feed.