Perfect Smoke Rings Blow Out of the ‘Gandalf of Volcanoes’

Spectacular footage of Mount Etna in Italy puffing out smoke rings has amazed onlookers with circular smoke appearing in the skies over Sicily for over a week.

Dubbed the Gandalf of volcanoes after the pipe-smoking wizard from Lord of the Rings, experts say that Mount Etna’s recent puffs have “broken all previous records” for the frequency of the rings.

A white circular smoke ring floats against a clear blue sky, creating a striking visual contrast.

The rings are officially known as volcanic vortex rings and began to appear in early April after a new vent opened over the volcano’s southeast crater. The vent has a “perfect circle mouth” creating a “special phenomenon,” explains Giuseppe Barbagallo, a Mount Enta guide, to The Straits Times.

Simona Scollo, a volcanologist at the INGV Etna Observatory in Catania, tells The New York Times that “it is bellissimo.” Scollo, who has published a study on volcanic vortex rings, compares the smoke rings to how dolphins blow bubble rings.

“They compress the water in their mouths, and using their tongue they push it out of their mouths and create such a pressure that it forms a ring,” she explains.

Scollo stresses that the smoke rings aren’t a harbinger of an eruption, new vents open from time to time. One opened last year that also blows smoke rings, however, it is far less frequent than the new one that emits hundreds of rings.

The rings will hang around in the air for up to 10 minutes, giving photographers on the ground plenty of opportunity to capture a great shot. But it depends on the air conditions: turbulence will make them fall apart faster.

The first ever recorded smoke rings coming out of Mount Etna was in 1724 with periodic sightings since then, including in the year 2000. The activity coming from the new vent is expected to slow down and end altogether in the near future.

Mount Etna isn’t the only volcano in the world capable of producing smoke rings, vortex rings have been documented in Momotombo in Nicaragua and Eyjafjallajökul in Iceland but nowhere else on Earth produces as many smoke rings as the Gandalf of volcanoes.

Image credits: Inset photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.