Pele's tears are a well known curiosity commonly associated with low viscosity basaltic explosive eruptions. However, detailed studies of these pyroclasts are rare and, thus, there is no full explanation for their formation. These intriguing pyroclasts have smooth glassy surfaces, vesiculated interiors (similar to 30%), and fluidal morphologies trending towards teardrops and then spheres as they decrease in size to <2 mm. Detailed characterisation of Pele's tears from the 1959 fire-fountaining eruption of Kilauea Iki has led to a reassessment of the mechanisms of magma disruption and fragmentation, timescales of relaxation, and cooling rates that are responsible for their formation. We conclude that the particle size distributions and vesicularities of Pele's tears are representative of the magma properties at the moment of explosive disruption. However, the morphology of these unique pyroclasts results from reshaping through viscous relaxation, driven by surface tension forces, on a time scale fast enough to compete with cooling times. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.