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Golfers at Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park on May 15, 2018. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano, which until Tuesday had mainly been oozing lava through 20 fissures in the ground, is now sending ash clouds as high as 12,000 feet into the air.

The big picture: The volcano's latest eruption, which began on May 3, has moved into a new, more dangerous phase and shows no signs of stopping. The U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have issued a "red" alert to ensure pilots avoid the ash cloud, which can damage modern jet engines.

The details: The more explosive eruptions and related ash clouds are happening because the lava lake level in the volcano's crater has drained all the way down to near the level of the water table. This is releasing a large amount of steam, and rocks that fall into the crater can block the steam from escaping into the air. This causes pressure to build up, resulting in more explosive eruptions.

In a May 16 eruption update, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said they had discovered "dense ballistic blocks up to 60 cm (2 feet) across" in a parking lot a few hundred yards from the crater. "These reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity," the agency said. "Further observations are necessary to asses this interpretation."

What's next: The USGS says more ash clouds, and potentially even more powerful eruptions, are possible with little advanced warning. Also, lava continues to flow and form new fissures. In other words, this isn't over.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

House passes annual defense bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House voted to pass the annual defense bill 363-70 on Tuesday night, authorizing nearly $770 billion in funding for defenses and national security programs.

Why it matters: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) still has to clear the Senate, but the House passage greatly increases the chances that the must-pass defense bill will move through both chambers of Congress before the end of the year.

Women politicians are under siege

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Kevin Dietsch, Stefani Reynolds, and Alex Wong/Getty Images

Women in Congress feel besieged and singled-out amid surging threats against lawmakers at all levels, with some frustrated more hasn't been done to halt the trend.

Why it matters: As record numbers of American women are being elected to public office, their growing political power is being met with death and rape threats, sexist and racist abuse and online disinformation. Collectively, it's discouraged women from running for office.