Pele's hair is a form of lava. It is named after Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. It can be defined as volcanic glass fibers or thin strands of volcanic glass (Shimozuru, 1994). The strands are formed through the stretching of molten basaltic glass from lava, usually from lava fountains, lava cascades, and vigorous lava flows.
Pele's hair is extremely light, so the wind often carries the fibers high into the air and to places several kilometers away from the vent. It is common to find fibers of Pele's hair on high places like top of trees, radio antennas, and electric poles. This ease of travel interferes with the geomorphology.
Pele's hair does not only occur in Hawaii. According to Duffield (1977), it can be found near other volcanoes around the world, for example in Nicaragua (Masaya), Italy (Etna) and Ethiopia (Erta’ Ale). It can be found all over the places, but it is usually found in gaps in the ground, mostly near vents, skylights, ocean entry, or in corners where Pele's hair can accumulate.
It is not recommended to touch Pele's hair, because it is very brittle and very sharp, and small broken pieces can enter the skin. Gloves should be worn while you examine it.
Pele's tears might occur with Pele's hair (Duffield et al., 1977). They can tell volcanologists a lot of information about the eruption, such as the temperatures and the magma's path to the surface. According to Katsura (1966), plagioclase starts to crystallize from the magma of Pele's hair at around 1,160 °C. Also, the shape of the tears can provide an indication of the velocity of the eruption, and the bubbles of gas and particles trapped within the tears can provide information about the composition of the magma chamber.
The formation of Pele's hair occurs when molten basaltic glass is blowing-out from lava (Duffield et al., 1977). The strands are created when molten lava is ejected into the air and form tiny droplets, which elongate perfectly straight, from a lava fountain. It usually forms in lava fountains, lava cascades, and vigorous lava flows.
Pele's hair has a golden yellow color and looks like human hair. It also looks like straw. In sunlight, it has a shimmering gold color. The lengths can vary a lot, but it has an average of 2 to 6 inch length (Herzog, 2009). A particular strand can have a diameter of less than 0.5 mm, and be 2 m long. It is extremely light.
A manufactured version of Pele's hair made from basalt rock and recycled slag from steel manufacturing called mineral wool or stone wool is commonly used as a non-combustible, durable, dimensionally stable, UV stable, hydrophobic, vapour-permeable building insulation for residential, commercial, and high rise building.
A hydrophilic version is used as a low water usage, high yield, soil substitute for hydroponic agriculture.
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Pele is known as the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, dance and volcanoes. The legends that tell how Pele first came to the Hawaiian Islands have a lot of versions, but it is believed that Pele's spirit lives in the crater of the Kilauea volcano, on the island of Hawaii. Pele appears as a spirit in many forms, and she is considered a negative harbinger. Most native Hawaiians state that they have had at least one encounter with her. They really believe that she should be respected.
The Hawaiians also believe that they must live in harmony with all natural things. So, they think that Pele will curse with bad luck people who take lava rock, sand, seashells, etc. from Hawaii islands to their homes, until they return these items to their rightful place. Actually, there is a Federal law against taking anything out of a national park, but people take it anyway. Although every year, a lot of guilty people, who affirmed to have bad luck after taking something from the island, mail hundreds of tons of rocks and sand back to Hawaii.
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KATSURA, Takashi. Pele's hair as a liquid of Hawaiian tholeiitic basalts. Geochemical Journal, Tokyo, Japan, v. 1, p. 157-168, October 19, 1966.
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ZIMANOWSKI, BERND; BUTTNER, RALF; LORENZ, VOLKER; HAFELE, HANS-GEORG. Fragmentation of Basaltic Melt in the Course of Explosive Volcanism. Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 102, No. B1, Pages 803-814, January 10, 1997.
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- USGS Photo Glossary: Pele's hair