Pareidolia at Work: The “Smiley Face” Volcano August 4, 2016

Pareidolia at Work: The “Smiley Face” Volcano

Last week, filmmaker Mick Kalber and pilot Colin Burkhardt flew over the Pu’u O’o crater in Hawaii when they caught the lava inside in a familiar position:


News websites were quick to jump on the “smiley face” image, as if the lava was sending us some sort of sign.

It wasn’t. (Obviously.) This is a phenomenon known as pareidolia, where you “see” a pattern even though there’s nothing really there. I guess we should be grateful people weren’t saying they saw Jesus, otherwise there would be a mass of people descending upon the volcano right now.

In case you’re wondering, there’s an actual scientific explanation for the “smiley face”:

As a lava lake circulates, lava upwelling and downwelling will occur on opposite sides of the lake, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. This often results in a spattering of molten lava, which creates bright spots on the dark-colored, semi-solid lake surface. Circulation can also cause sections of the surface to pull apart, revealing the lava beneath and creating lines.

By chance, these processes occurred in a pattern that created the smiling image, [USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Janet] Babb said.

Enjoy the image. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a bigger deal than it really is.

(via Colossal)

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