Blue Lava? Is that a thing?
Those were my questions, too, when I first saw some pictures. And the answer is Yes…and No. The plot thickens…
The lava most of us are familiar with ranges from bright orange to various shades of red. Maybe a little yellow thrown in there to remind us of fire. But generally speaking, that’s what we expect to see in pictures or videos or, more rarely, in person!
But apparently lava does have its own range of color. And it changes colors depending on its temperature.
So let’s get a little scientific. Yes, lava is quite HOT when it erupts from the earth. Usually to the tune of 1,200 to 2,200º F.
The “coolest” of hot lava is bright orange. Beyond that, lava can be varying shades of red. The “coolest” red lava is a bright red, but the hotter the lava is, the darker red it becomes until it can look almost brown.
After it erupts and hits the earth’s surface, the liquid lava hardens and cools. Solid lava is black, even when you can still see the hot wisps of steam curling up from the surface as it continues to cool.
But we still haven’t gotten to the blue part.
Where does blue lava come in?
Blue lava happens when sulfur gases combine with molten lava. The sulfur makes the lava burn blue.
The added sulfur means the air emissions of blue lava are truly toxic, and photographers or thrill seekers who dare to get reasonably close for a bird’s-eye view must wear gas masks to preserve their health.
So where can you find blue lava?
Several places, really, but the most significant place is at the Kawah Ijen volcano on the island of Java in Indonesia.
This magnificent sight may look like any other volcanic eruption during the day. But don’t dismiss it so easily.
When the darkness of night seeps in…things change.
In the blackness, the lava glows blue. Unmistakably. What was difficult to see in the daytime becomes a magnificent light show at night.
Sometimes the sight gets even more breathtaking when the lava runs down the mountainside in a stream of glowing blue fire.
Actually, that’s what they call it there. Blue Fire. Or, in the local language, Api Biru.
If you dare to see this for yourself, you must arrange for a knowledgeable local guide. And then plan to trek up the mountain in the middle of the night.
For the rest of us less daring souls, a picture will do.
For some of the most amazing pictures of blue lava, check out the photography by Olivier Grunewald.
And for the most amazing geography curriculum for kids, check out Let’s Go Geography.