Italy's Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, erupted Thursday with a paroxysm that sent hot ash towering three miles above eastern Sicily.


Volcanologists said the eruption occurred via a new crater on the volcano's southeastern slope, and produced a dangerous mix of lava, gas, ash and rock fragments. According to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, "the intense fallout of pyroclastic material on the flanks of the cone generated small pyroclastic flows, which have invaded land covered with snow, causing violent explosive interactions."


Those pyroclastic flows are mainly on Etna's southern side, and experts say human communities don't currently face a direct threat. The 16,000-foot-high ash cloud raised some anxiety about air-traffic disruptions — especially since the Catania airport is located nearby — but so far no flights have been cancelled.


Mount Etna has a long recorded history of such eruptions, dating back to 1500 BC, and it just finished its last one 50 days ago on Nov. 15. The volcano also has a knack for ringing in the new year — it produced a similar eruption to kick off 2011 last January.


The video above shows Etna's latest fireworks, while this clip compiles impressive footage from its November outburst:



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Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Watch: Mount Etna erupts
One of Europe's most active volcanoes has kicked off 2012 with a bang, spewing lava and sending columns of hot ash 16,000 feet into the sky.