The summit of South America’s Llullaillaco Volcano has an elevation of 6,739 meters (22,110 feet) above sea level, making it the highest historically active volcano in the world. The current stratovolcano—a cone-shaped volcano built from successive layers of thick lava flows and eruption products like ash and rock fragments—is built on top of an older stratovolcano. The last explosive eruption of the volcano, based on historical records, occurred in 1877.
This detailed astronaut photograph of Llullaillaco illustrates an interesting volcanic feature known as a coulée (image top right). Coulées are formed from highly viscous, thick lavas that flow onto a steep surface. As they flow slowly downwards, the top of the flow cools and forms a series of parallel ridges oriented at 90 degrees to the direction of flow (somewhat similar in appearance to the pleats of an accordion). The sides of the flow can also cool faster than the center, leading to the formation of wall-like structures known as flow levees (image center). Llullaillaco is also a well-known archaeological site; the mummified remains of three Inca children, ritually sacrificed 500 years ago, were discovered on the summit in 1999.
Astronaut photograph ISS022-E-8285 was acquired on December 9, 2009, with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera using an 800mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 22 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.
This detailed astronaut photo shows the summit of South America’s Llullaillaco Volcano, the highest historically active volcano in the world.