Photo courtesy USGS
The 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens, in Washington state.
Whenever there is a major volcanic eruption in the world, you'll see a slew of newspaper articles and nightly news stories covering the catastrophe, all stressing a familiar set of words -- violent, raging, awesome. When faced with a spewing volcano, people today share many of the same feelings volcano-observers have had throughout human history: We are in awe of the destructive power of nature, and we are unsettled by the thought that a peaceful mountain can suddenly become an unstoppable destructive force!

While scientists have cleared up much of the mystery surrounding volcanoes, our knowledge has not made volcanoes any less amazing. In this edition of How Stuff Works, we'll take a look at the powerful, violent forces that create eruptions, and see how these eruptions build volcanic structures like islands. The next time a big eruption is in the news, you'll know exactly where that destructive power is coming from!