While most attempts at pathetic fallacy describe volcanic activity as angry or vengeful, a recent Hawaiian volcanic eruption might show that the Earth has something to be happy about, for once. Or at least that’s what netizens around the world are speculating as the viral images of a mysterious smiley face appearing in the magma flow of a volcanic eruption are spreading across the web.
Footage of the smiling volcano was captured by Paradise Helicopters, a Hawaiian helicopter tour company. The company’s helicopters were circling above several lava vents of the highly active Kīlauea volcano when photographer Mick Kalber caught the face on camera. This particular vent features a “lava lake” at the bottom of the 25-meter (80 foot) crater. As the lava spewed to the surface of the lake, two eye-like holes appeared complete with a long mouth-like vein of red-hot lava.
The Kīlauea volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983. This particular smiling lava flow began spewing forth on May 24 before flowing across the otherwise serene Hawaiian landscape for 10km (6 miles) into Pacific Ocean. The volcano's name literally means “spewing” in Hawaiian, a name stemming from the fact that the volcano has been actively erupting on and off throughout recorded history. The volcano is a favorite destination for hikers and adventure-seekers, who are allowed to hike all the way up to the edges of the volcano’s vents.
While the lava flow might appear like a smiley face from certain angles, much of the reason behind the face-like apparition is due to a psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia, in which the mind creates patterns or familiar images such as faces out of sensory input.
This phenomenon helps explain the “Face on Mars” images captured by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 orbiters. Many ghost researchers even attribute pareidolia to the phenomenon of ghost-like apparitions appearing in photographs.