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Achneliths (Pele's tears) (unrecorded eruption of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii) | by James St. John
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Achneliths (Pele's tears) (unrecorded eruption of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii)

Achneliths (Pele’s tears) from the Holocene of Hawaii, USA. (from left to right, specimens are: 9 millimeters tall, 10.5 millimeters tall, 9.5 millimeters tall, and 18 millimeters tall)


Mt. Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano. It sits atop the Hawaii Hotspot in the central Pacific Ocean. It had a decades-long eruption from 1983 to 2018. Kilauea lavas are basaltic in composition, but the physical appearance of Kilauea’s output varies tremendously. Many of Kilauea’s ongoing basaltic eruptions have occurred along its East Rift Zone, a fracture system extending ~eastward from the summit vent area.


Pele’s tears are small, raindrop-shaped blebs of quickly solidified basalt lava. The technical term for such structures is achneliths. These Hawaiian achneliths represent rapidly chilled basalt lava spray blown by winds during a high lava fountain eruption. The broken tips of the three smaller specimens reveal that they are composed of black, finely-vesiculated basalt glass (tachylite). In the field, Pele’s Tears are many times seen attached to the distal ends of extremely long threads of mafic glass (Pele’s Hair).


Locality & eruption info.: unrecorded locality on Hawaii, but probably derived from a Mt. Kilauea eruption; unrecorded eruption date, but probably a mid- to late-20th century high fountain eruption.


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Taken on August 24, 2014