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Volcanic eruption explained - Steven Anderson

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In February of 1942, Mexican farmer Dionisio Pulido thought he heard thunder coming from his cornfield. However, the sound wasn’t coming from the sky. The source was a large, smoking crack emitting gas and ejecting rocks, and would come to be known as the volcano Paricutin. Where do new volcanoes like this come from, and what triggers their unpredictable eruption? Steven Anderson investigates.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Steven Anderson
  • Director Odirlei Seixas, Felipe Grosso, Fábio Vianna (In Memorian)
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Storyboard Artist Felipe Grosso
  • Animator Sarah Zattar, Kelvin Lima, Renato Nogueira Cavalher
  • Art Director Victor Goularte
  • Sound Designer Julio Muzzi - Astrolábio Studio
  • Music Julio Muzzi - Astrolábio Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal, Dan Kwartler
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Volcanoes not only exist on the Earth, but are found on the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Missions to explore these planets have revealed that volcanoes are no longer active on the Moon, Mars and Mercury, but it is possible that Venus is still volcanically active.

Volcanoes on these other planets have some striking similarities to those on Earth, including the eruption of magmas with very similar chemistry to that we see erupting in Hawaii and other oceanic volcanoes. In fact, features such as lava tubes, craters, vents, and lava flows are clear in detailed images of Mars volcanoes, and are likely on Venus as well. Other research suggests the lavas have a similar chemistry to those on some Earth volcanoes.

There are some amazing differences as well. The largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, is found on the planet Mars. Although Mars is much smaller than Earth, it appears to lack plate tectonics, and therefore volcanoes that arise from hot spots in the mantle of Mars are not moved off the hotspots as plates migrate, allowing for volcanoes to continue to grow and attain massive sizes.

As we move to the outer reaches of our solar system, we find that volcanoes still exist on the moons of the large planets, especially those of Jupiter and Saturn. One moon of Jupiter, Io, is the most volcanically active body in our solar system with dozens active volcanoes erupting on a frequent basis.

On other moons of our outer planets, volcanism takes on a much different form than here on Earth. Cryovolcanism dominates these worlds. Cryo, or cold, volcanic activity involves the eruption of icy cold material such as liquid methane, ammonia, and salty water. Some of the volcanoes created in this manner are quite large, and can rival the size of some Earth volcanoes.

Although many people view volcanoes as a hazard that can destroy life, new studies suggest that volcanoes on planets outside of our solar system may make these far away worlds more livable, increasing the odds that life may take hold on world’s that would not be habitable without the heat and gases generated by active volcanoes.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Steven Anderson
  • Director Odirlei Seixas, Felipe Grosso, Fábio Vianna (In Memorian)
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Storyboard Artist Felipe Grosso
  • Animator Sarah Zattar, Kelvin Lima, Renato Nogueira Cavalher
  • Art Director Victor Goularte
  • Sound Designer Julio Muzzi - Astrolábio Studio
  • Music Julio Muzzi - Astrolábio Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal, Dan Kwartler
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more