A photograph of Mount Etna, shot from Malta, has for the first time captured a rare phenomenon – circles of smoke, known as volcano vortex rings.

The image, taken by photographer Daniel Cilia from Senglea on Monday morning, shows the Sicilian volcano, with Fort St Angelo’s bell in the forefront and circles of smoke emerging from its mouth and blowing in the Sicilian skyline.

An expert on the phenomenon from Sicily described the photo of the “anelli” from Malta as “exceptional” and “crazy”.

The “spectacular” natural phenomenon resembles smoke rings, but these are actually made up of steam and volcanic gases.

Requiring the right conditions, they form when the volcano emits gas from a relatively narrow opening. This has to happen with a certain level of violence due to the variation of temperature between the warm gas that emerges fast into the cold air.

The circular vortexes can remain stable and visible for a few minutes, travelling for kilometres in the atmosphere before dissolving, depending on wind speed and humidity.

AFP footage of the 'Etna rings' filmed in Sicily.

More common in certain volcanoes, the conditions on Mount Etna favoured their formation to the point that it has been nicknamed the ‘Lady of the Rings’ by locals.

“To be honest, I was lucky. I did not know I was capturing them,” Cilia admitted about the rare occurrence.

“I was aiming at Etna and the long exposure ‘saw’ the rings,” he said.

Cilia has taken several photos of Mount Etna, located around 200km away from Malta, and is planning to put together an exhibition and a book with photos from different places on the islands.

“The shots are all planned, and I know where to go,” he said, adding that sometimes it is hard to get there in time.

The 'smoke rings' from Italy's Mount Etna. Photo:Louis F. CassarThe 'smoke rings' from Italy's Mount Etna. Photo:Louis F. Cassar

Monday, however, was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

That was perhaps more true for Professor Louis F. Cassar, who was on the Etna slopes when the phenomenon happened.

He managed to take several shots of the near-perfect circular smoke rings being puffed from the active volcano.


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