What is a volcano?

A volcano is a hole in the Earth where hot liquid rock deep within the Earth erupts to the surface. Its name comes from the Roman god of fire ‘Vulcan’.

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How are volcanoes formed?

Volcanoes form when the Earth’s plates move. The Earth’s crust is made up of plates which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The only problem is, sometimes the plates move! When they rub against each other or a plate gets pushed underneath or above another plate, it causes friction and pressure. The pressure makes rocks melt, forming magma which rises to the surface and comes out through holes called vents.


Magma and lava 

When rocks deep inside the Earth are squashed and get really hot, they melt and become liquid rock. This liquid rock is called magma.

When a volcano erupts, magma comes up to the surface through a vent. The moment magma reaches the surface it’s no longer called magma, instead, it’s called lava.

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Do volcanoes sleep?

Volcanoes can be very scary and cause lots of damage, but not all volcanoes are dangerous. Some volcanoes are in a kind of sleep state while others erupt very often.

Volcanoes that have recently erupted or can erupt at any time are called active.

Volcanoes that haven’t erupted for a while are called dormant. They are 'sleeping' but can wake up in the future!

Volcanoes that haven’t erupted for thousands of years are called extinct. Scientists don’t think these volcanoes will ever erupt again.


The story of Vesuvius: An entire ancient city was buried under volcanic ash for nearly 2,000 years before archaeologists found it. It was discovered in Pompeii, Italy. The volcano was called Vesuvius and it erupted just one day after the religious festival to the god Vulcan.

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Did you know?

  • There aren’t any volcanoes in the UK. The largest volcano in Europe is Mount Etna in Sicily (Italy).
  • The largest volcano on land is Mauna Loa on Hawaii Big Island. Right next to it is Mauna Kea, the tallest volcano on land. 
  • There are around 1,500 active volcanoes on Earth.