It started with a pit [Explored again !!!]
Yesterday I was standing on top of the conspicuous cone in the left part of this photo - the old Southeast Crater cone - and looked down on its much younger brother, at center right. Both cones are the result of a story that started with a pit - a volcanic collapse crater. The old Southeast Crater was born in 1971 and initially was a simple collapse pit, or pit crater, but then it started erupting frequently and built itself a cone that now stands approximately 300 m above the elevation of the original pit. In 2007, a new pit formed on the eastern flank of that cone; it erupted three times in 2007-2008 and then remained silent until 2011, when it started producing numerous episodes of lava fountaining also known as paroxysms. These episodes built the second, younger cone, which grew to a height of more than 200 m.
Now there is yet another new pit up there in the Southeast Crater complex. This new collapse feature that I have come to call "il pittino" (an Italianized way to say "the little pit") bites deeply into the southwestern rim of the new Southeast Crater. It formed on 27 August 2012, four months after the last lava fountain from the new Southeast Crater, and was enlarged by further collapse on 6-7 September 2012. Now its diameter is a few tens of meters, its inner walls are vertical down to an unknown depth, and it is emitting a weak, passive gas plume. Nearby, the main depression of the new Southeast Crater is producing a much more conspicuous plume, which seems to be nearly entirely water vapor, because during our field visit yesterday we had no problem breathing when in that plume.
Today, on 19 October 2012, I had the unique chance to fly over the volcano in a helicopter and get my first aerial view of the whole scene. Thanks are due to my friends of EtnaExcursion Acireale, Destination Sicily, HeliJet.it, and Trendy Foods.