Journey to the Earth's boiling heart

By Phil Plait | March 7, 2011 7:00 am

In the extreme east of the Democratic Republic of Congo lies the Nyiragongo crater: an active volcano that is so treacherous that it has killed many people who have tried to approach it. But its surpassing beauty keeps people trying, and The Big Picture documents a successful trip with incredible images:

This just shows the lava pit itself, but the other pictures show the people and the adventure they had getting to this terribly dangerous location. I don’t say this often, but it’s a must-see.

Related posts:

Icy swirls around a patient volcano
Mt. Etna erupts!
The Big Picture stinks!
Mount St. Helens, +30 years

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (32)

Links to this Post

  1. Nahezu Mordor – der Nyiragongo-Krater « EffJot | March 17, 2011
  1. There goes Phil’s geologist self again. :)

  2. Larry

    The photos are spectacular! It takes a very special kind of crazy to be willing to walk up to boiling magma in order to study it.

  3. Daffy
  4. Amazing photos. I was particularly surprised by #20, when the scale of the whole thing was made clear. Pictures like #22 make it seem so much smaller.

  5. Hi Phil!

    Guess what? My advisor works there. He was just there on an expedition last year, maybe even the expedition in those photographs. He certainly works with all of those people.

    The volcano isn’t even the dangerous part… the DRC is! They have canceled or postponed many a previous expedition because of the political situation being too hot.

    Nat Geo filmed by advisor & others last year. They were supposed to put together a magazine article and TV show, but I haven’t heard anything about them coming out yet.


  6. Messier Tidy Upper

    Spectacular! Thanks. :-)

    Except .. I saw the headline & was expecting something on The Core :

    movie instead! ūüėČ

    Or possibly a project kinda like it – such as the Mohole :

    digging one.

    Maybe Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth or suchlike?

    Or that sort of thing anyhow.



    PS. Volcanoes ~wise I did see something on tonight’s TV news about a new big eruption in Hawaii.

  7. blf

    Those guys shouldn’t be worried – their titanium cajones will protect them from the heat.

    Ken B (#4) – I agree totally. The scale of the lake didn’t become clear to me until they approached it. There is *no* way I’d ever get that close to flowing lava.

  8. Roped as one for safety through the long descent,
    Into the crater of volcanic rock they went…

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ kuhnigget : Is that a Jules Verne ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ quote there? Am I right?

  10. Cindy

    It’s weird how I know of a few other astronomers who are also interested in geology. My brother, uncle, and cousin are all geologists so I was the one who broke with tradition. Though if I didn’t go into astronomy I’d probably go into geology. I have to agree, volcanoes are fascinating.

  11. Mapnut

    There was a lot of activity at the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in the past few days. The floor of the Pu’u o’o crater collapsed and a fissure opened up nearby, spewing lava into forests and plains. Photos and videos here:

  12. Ron1

    @10. Cindy

    Nothing weird at all, geology is really nothing but a subset of astronomy. :)

    The grandeur of the natural world has a way of seducing those with a scientific frame of mind, regardless of their speciality — we’re curious.

  13. Ron1

    Does anyone else see the face of the lava monster (poking it’s head over the rim and gritting its teeth) in the lower part of the plume to the right?

    I mean, who needs a cloud (or toast) when you’ve got a perfectly good lava plume to stimulate a little pareidolia with your coffee in the morning.


  14. jjgboulder

    Did anyone take marshmallows? But seriously, thanks, Phil, for the link to the stunning photos. My children will enjoy them immensely.

  15. Simon Green

    Speaking of volcanoes and such, here’s someone else Phil will love:

    He claims to have predicted the Christchurch earthquake a couple of weeks ago (I live in NZ, but thankfully a long way from Christchurch). Of course, he also predicted earthquakes on roughly 50% of every other day between September and late Feb, and they have had aftershocks virtually every day since the 4th of September. So, he was always going to get lucky.

    The latest we hear, soon the moon will be the closest to earth it’s ever been since 1993 and this will cause the next earthquake (no, really!). A very fast calculation shows that the relative difference in lunar gravitational force between perigee and apogee is something like 1.5×10^-18. But still, people believe this idiot.

    Sigh… preaching to the choir I guess.

  16. andy

    But the centre of the Earth isn’t boiling… the inner core is pretty solid.


  17. Simon Green


    Well, I don’t know about that – I reckon if you held the prototypical teaspoon’s worth of Earth’s core material, you would find your teaspoon would melt and your hand would begin to boil.

  18. scgvlmike

    Ok, for once the “Holy Haleakala” comment would’ve been appropriate and called for– and you didn’t use it?!

    That’s like in Kip Adotta’s song “Wet Dream”, when he describes the object of his affection & the way she can drink, as if he -didn’t- say “she drank like a… she drank a lot.”

  19. Pete Jackson

    You’d think that they would have ‘No Skating’ and ‘No Swimming’ signs posted at such a dangerous spot.

  20. DrBB

    Whhhoooooowwwaaaaoooooooowww! Just staggeringly beautiful, amazing and impressive images. Sad that “awesome” is such a depleted adjective. It was designed for this.

  21. andy

    Well, I don‚Äôt know about that ‚Äď I reckon if you held the prototypical teaspoon‚Äôs worth of Earth‚Äôs core material, you would find your teaspoon would melt and your hand would begin to boil.

    Depends what pressure you do the experiment at. If you’re at the ~3.5 million atmospheres of the inner core things will behave rather differently than they would at sea level.

    Either way your hand is going to have a very bad time of it though.

  22. Matt B.

    Picture 14 makes the lake surface look like an aerial phenomenon, because you can’t tell that the view is downward instead of upward (except that the smoke kind of ruins the effect).

  23. Mapnut

    You made me look, Matt B, that’s neat! Wonder how long until that photo, cropped, turns up on UFO sites?

  24. artbot

    I think Paris Hilton said it best: That’s hot!

  25. ERic

    First pic on the website, I thought “Eye of Mordor!”

  26. BillR

    Shots from The Big Picture frequently find themselves as my desktop background. The set of the Indonesian mine with burning sulfur was particularly spectacular.

  27. katwagner

    #25 Eric – you beat me to it. First thing I thought of was Mordor but Frodo and Sam didn’t have any protective clothes on. And I was hugely impressed with the body armor on that camera, yikes! I mean, WOW!

  28. ggremlin

    I thought the name sounded familiar, this crater was the site of the largest direct death by lava in known history. In 1977, a small earthquake fractured the containing walls of the lake allowing the lava to drain rapidly out.

    Normally lava moves only a couple of miles an hour out in the open, lava tubes much different story, but this case the lava was traveling at over 40mph (60kph) and killed a confirmed 70, with some reports of hundreds.

  29. artbot

    @27: One does not simply walk into…liquid……hot…….MAG-muh!

  30. Joseph G

    Oops, wrong thread!

  31. Brian Too

    OK, no way you would get me into that crater. Unless of course my evil lair was constructed there…

    Minions! Go forth and do my bidding! Assemble me a fortress of unstoppable domination!!



Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar