Lava 'Skylights' Are The Coolest Natural Feature You Never Knew Existed

Peer into the depths of molten Mother Earth.

On Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, astonishing geological phenomena happen daily.

Sometimes, that means lava birthing new land by flowing directly into the ocean or lava lake explosions sending bizarre glass formations into the sky.

Other times, it's Mother Nature giving us a peek into what's happening below the surface, with something called a lava "skylight."

In recent weeks, Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has seen new lava breakouts, which have caused some mind-boggling activity. This includes a number of these so-called "skylights" -- which might be the coolest geological feature we've ever seen.

Put simply, a lava skylight is an opening in the roof of an underground lava tube. The hole forms when a portion of the tube collapses, revealing the flowing stream of lava within.

In the case of the tube pictured below, the crust of the roof of the lava tube was probably too thin to support itself, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist Tim Orr told Big Island Video News.

This lava skylight is an estimated 20 feet across.
This lava skylight is an estimated 20 feet across.

These photographs, which were taken from a helicopter, are actually a bit deceiving, making the skylights seem smaller than they actually are. The one above, for instance, is about 20 feet in diameter, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory website.

The most fascinating thing about skylights is the rare glimpse they provide into what is happening beneath the cooled surface of a lava field. Often, there are rapid flows moving in lava tubes underneath the black, cooling crust, invisible without a crack or hole.

Orr estimated the lava seen within the skylight to be flowing at a rate of 1 to 2 meters per second, though he noted that there is no way to scientifically measure the speed of the lava within the tube.

Here are a few more epic views of lava skylights, because we honestly can't stop staring.


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