It was a photo originally posted by Chris Hadfield's Twitter account on New Year's Day. Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut who is currently acting as Commander of the International Space Station (ISS).
This picture is interesting on many levels. To a geologist like me, it's a really neat image of a beautiful stratovolcano in the Campanian volcanic arc formed by the subduction of the African Plate beneath the Eurasian Plate. It's also a historic volcano, erupting many times in the past - most notably in AD 79. Finally, we note the extensive human development on the coastal plain extending right up to the slopes of this active volcanic cone.
The science of volcanology owes a lot to Italy - even the origin of the term. In ancient Rome, Vulcanus (the counterpart to the ancient Greek god Hephaestus) was the god of the blacksmith's forge and fire.
(Swinging those hammers with no pants seems like a bad idea to me!)
Vulcan's name came to be attached to an island in the Aeolian volcanic arc 25 km north of Sicily - the present-day Isola Vulcano.
"Centuries ago, the people living in this area believed that Vulcano was the chimney of the forge of Vulcan - the blacksmith of the Roman gods. They thought that the hot lava fragments and clouds of dust erupting form Vulcano came from Vulcan's forge as he beat out thunderbolts for Jupiter, king of the gods, and weapons for Mars, the god of war" (Reference).
In my next couple of posts, I'll discuss the history of Vesuvius and why Italy is so volcanic.