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photo: Laszlo Kestay

Intertwined like a mass of twisted bodies sliding into a pit, these bizarre lava formations are a creepy natural oddity. Located in Hawaii over the West Kamokuna lava skylight, this eerie photo juxtaposes the proud researcher standing over what looks like the gates of hell.

The photo was shot by Laszlo Kestay, who is currently director of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center. So what is this image really showing? Sure, our imagination can run wild with demons being cast into oblivion or corpses sliding into a lava pit, but surely there is a scientific explanation. And indeed, there is!

Subsequent flows have fed lava into the skylight. A stationary crust is formed on margins of the flowing lava within the tube at this location, probably due to the loss of heat through the skylight.




If lava has the right viscosity, it can travel across a landscape via channels. The lava either forms the channels itself or uses a preexisting one. Along the same vein, lava tubes are essentially channels that reside underground and also allow lava to move quickly. Tubes form one of two ways. A lava channel can form an arc above it that chills and crystallizes, or an insulated pahoehoe flow can have lava still running through it while outer layers freeze. Lava tubes, by their nature, are buried. However, skylights form when the lava tube collapses in a specific area and allow one to see the flow inside the tube. Tubes can collapse completely and become channels, drain out, or get blocked up.

In terms of Mars, channels are more readily found and recognized. Lava tubes are more obscure and might not be identified unless they have some inflation on the surface or have a skylight.
The original Photo
The above story is based on materials provided by  USGS .

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