I lava science!

By Phil Plait | July 26, 2011 12:42 pm

Why do we scientists do what we do?

Because we love it. Because we’re driven by the need to know, the need to understand, the need to explore what’s around the next corner. And we’ll dedicate our education, our career, and our lives to do it.

But I suspect some of us are just thrill-junkies. Like this guy:

Holy molten magma! Look, astronomy can be dangerous. Seriously; we work at high elevations, there’s heavy equipment, and sometimes dangerous chemicals.

But that guy? Yikes. He should be more careful. Even if any spheroidal part of him were made of brass, that still has a melting point of 900° C, well below that of the lava he’s trying to collect.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Humor, Science
MORE ABOUT: lava, volcanology

Comments (30)

Links to this Post

  1. How To Study A Volcano | Surprising Science | July 28, 2011
  1. What if those spheroid parts were made of titanium? Then at least those parts would survive, right? :)

  2. Josie

    I was thinking admantium :P

    mmmmmmwolverine……

  3. One man’s brave is another man’s stupid.

  4. Douglas Troy

    On my top 10 list of things I’d like to do before I die, walking insanely close to an active volcanic lake in a fire proof suit is NOT on that list.

  5. Hmm, I think the next time anyone asks me why I’m a mathematician I’m just going to say “Because I’m a coward.”

  6. Dark Jaguar

    Live bold and chase your dreams!

  7. Murff

    Richard Hammond from Top Gear on the narration…sweet!

  8. RaginKagin

    Um….pass…

  9. Oana

    He walked up there himself? I thought that’s what grad students are for…

  10. Graham

    I saw this show the other day on BBC. It’s called, “Richard Hammond’s Journey to the Centre of the Planet”.
    It was an ok show, nothing that I haven’t seen before. Iain Stewart did it better and more compelling on “Earth: Power of the Planet” and “How the Earth made us”.
    There were some nice CGI imaging of the Earth and everything was explained in a nice clear manner. Perhaps a little dumbed down might be the major criticism.
    But then if Hammond can get the Top Gear demographic watch some real science then that’s gotta be a good thing.
    (Speaking of Top Gear presenters doing good science)I recommend watching “James May on the Moon” and “James May at the Edge of Space”, both excellent shows.

  11. Mike

    Holy crap that is cool. I mean hot. Real hot.

  12. Sam H

    “Science isn’t about why, it’s about why not. You ask: why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: why not marry safe science if you love it so much? In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won’t hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired! No, not you, test subject, you’re doing fine. Yes, you! Box your stuff! Out the front door! Parking lot! Car! Goodbye!”
    -C. Johnson

    (^’K I know it’s only half-related, but I have literally been waiting for a post related to dangerous science for a long time just so I could drop this epic quote. :D ;) )

  13. That crater always fools me. I saw it first on the Big Picture website and if asked to guess the height of the rim after seeing the first photo, I would have said oh, a couple of metres. Yeah, right. Not exactly.
    I grew up with the movies made by the Kraffts and I’ve always wonder how lava would feel like if we could touch it. Do volcanologists gets this urge to touch it, like that voice that tells you to jump when you’re standing on a ledge?

  14. That crater always fools me. I saw it first on the Big Picture website and if asked to guess the height of the rim after seeing the first photo, I would have said oh, a couple of metres. Yeah, right. Not exactly.
    I grew up with the movies made by the Kraffts and I’ve always wonder how lava would feel like if we could touch it. Do volcanologists gets this urge to touch it, like that voice that tells you to jump when you’re standing on a ledge?

    (I apologise if this is a double comment, but it looks like the site ate the first one)

  15. Kathy King

    “Class A moron.” -30 Rock

  16. MadScientist

    Rule #1 is don’t fall onto it. If you can follow that, you’ll be OK. I think one of the biggest risks is standing on what you think is solid ground just to find out it’s a thin layer of fragmented glass with a large void underneath – worse still the void has molten rock on the bottom. Lava generally moves slowly, so unless your’e at a fresh eruption which happens to have fast moving lava, you’ll probably be OK. Now as for going into a crater to see a molten pool at the bottom – you can avoid hot spots because you can sense the heat, but good luck avoiding gases like CO2.

  17. darkgently

    You know you’re doing something insane when *Richard Hammond* says that it’s too dangerous. ;)

  18. Pete Jackson

    As far as I know, nobody has tried scuba-diving in a lava lake. Things you would need:

    1)Titanium air tanks. Especially strengthened to withstand the pressure generated when the air in the tanks heats up.

    2)Goggles made of fused quartz.

    3)Tungsten weight belts, and a lot of them because the lava is much denser than water; it takes a lot of weight to sink down. And the standard lead weights would just melt away.

    4)Special diving computers geared to the high specific density of the lava – 100 feet of water equals about 30 feet of lava. You want to make sure you don’t get the bends!

    5)Ice for cooling. Lots and lots and lots of ice.

    Anything else?

  19. Scott W

    Interesting, the music is from The Dark Knight. It’s the end of the track titled “Aggressive Expansion.” The BBC has deep pockets or good connections. Or both. The track title is also amusingly appropriate.

  20. CodyC

    @15

    I think your missing your diamond wetsuit?

    let me know how that goes for you, could be onto something here…

  21. Ray

    In the name of science, I am skeptical about how dangerous this activity is. Please cite safety data.

  22. Shaun

    I kept expecting someone to break out into “Boom de ah da”.

  23. Tony

    If I am not mistaken, this scientist was the first person to reach the edge of the lake and live. About a dozen before him died. I believe I read that in a news article a few months ago.

    Some may praise this action as reaching for your dreams. So this guy can now claim to be the first, and for time being, only person to stand at the top of the lake’s edge and look at the lava. Does this really impress you? It impresses me in a different way. I am amazed that people with Phd’s are still capable of ridiculous choices.

  24. Jens

    #23 Tony says: “I am amazed that people with Phd’s are still capable of ridiculous choices.”

    We are all going to die. What is the most noteworthy goal of our time here? To live to be 100? To achieve amazing results? We all make our choices. There’s nothing “ridiculous” about that scientist’s choice, in my view.

  25. Joseph G

    I think I know who’s getting a volcano on Io named after him…

    Srsly, I’ve seen this footage before, but it never ceases to amaze me. I mean damn – sure, lava on a gently sloping surface may move slowly, but what about a lake of the stuff behind a natural dam that suddenly breaks?

  26. Joseph G

    @22 Shaun: “I love volcan- *sudden rumbling* ARGGGGH!”

  27. Tony

    @24 Jen. Risking your life for no noteworthly gain is foolish. How is this person’s life really better after doing this? How about the people he knows? I wonder how thrilled his parents must be to see him do this? How about his wife and kids?

    This past year I recently achieved a personal life goal; I published a book. Though I have no delusions that it will make the NY Times Best Sellers list, I still achieved something that will bring happiness and joy to my family, friends, and myself. What kind of happiness does what this person did bring to other people?

  28. MaDeR

    I know one thing… first thought was “Dwarf Fortress”. Sad, isn’t it?

  29. James

    @28 Tony.

    I think it’s fair to say that guy has brought a little ray of sunshine into the lives of most people that have watched that, which since it was on the BBC and now the internet means several millions of people worldwide.

    @19 Scott W.

    The Beeb puts that Dark Knight music on absolutely everything these days, so they are getting their monies worth out of it.

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