Stop! The ground is hot lava! Have you ever shouted those words on the playground? Many kids love to pretend that the ground is covered in hot lava, forcing them to hop around or swing through the air on the monkey bars to avoid a certain death from falling into the lava.
While it's fun to pretend, real hot lava is fairly easy to avoid, since it usually moves quite slowly. It is very hot, though. If you were to fall into hot lava, it would not be a pleasant experience. Your skin would be melted and burned by lava that can approach temperatures well over 2,000º F!
Lava is molten rock. It is created deep beneath Earth's surface (often 100 miles or more underground), where temperatures get hot enough to melt rock. Scientists call this molten rock magma when it's underground.
Eventually, some magma makes its way to Earth's surface and escapes via a volcanic eruption. When magma erupts onto Earth's surface and begins to flow, scientists then call it lava. Explosive eruptions can throw lava great distances. Most eruptions, however, create slow-moving lava flows that might cover only a few yards per minute at the most.
Deep below Earth's surface, the most common type of magma produced is basalt. Basalt makes up much of the ocean floor, and it's also the substance most often seen when Hawaiian volcanoes erupt. When it reaches Earth's surface, it erupts as basaltic lava.
If you were a villain in a cartoon and you wanted to take over the world, hot lava might be a good weapon to have in your arsenal. However, it can be very difficult to harness the power of a volcano. Is there any way that you could create your own lava?
It's not like you could throw some rocks in your oven and melt them into lava. The oven in your kitchen at home simply doesn't produce enough heat. Of course, if you were a villain in a cartoon, you might have lasers or some other trick up your sleeve.
Though it might sound far-fetched, humans have actually made their own lava without the assistance of a volcano. Scientists and students at Syracuse University, who are part of the Syracuse University Lava Project (and NOT villains of any sort!), have successfully used industrial furnaces to melt chunks of crushed basalt gravel from Wisconsin to create their own lava!
Once created, the lava is poured onto a thick slab of solid ice to create a lava flow up to a few yards long. Faculty, students, and even interested members of the public are invited to enjoy the lava flow up close.
The main goal of making the lava is to conduct scientific experiments to study basaltic lava. Usually, scientists can only observe lava eruptions, which happen only occasionally and usually without warning. Creating lava allows them to conduct controlled experiments like never before.
In between experiments, however, kids are often allowed to roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the hot lava. Beyond the scientific purposes of the lava flow, art students have also been allowed to use molds to create fascinating sculptures.