Volcanoes are like huge valves that release pressure from deep inside the Earth. When they erupt, they remind us of how powerful the forces are that continually reshape the Earth.

Deep inside the Earth (90 miles or more), temperatures get hot enough to melt rock. This molten rock is called “magma.” When it liquefies, it begins to float toward the surface of the Earth.

If it breaks through the surface of the Earth, it is then called “lava.” Although lava can be spewed into the air through a volcanic eruption, it’s more common for lava to flow from a volcano through cracks called “fissures.”

Lava is made up of mostly silicon and oxygen. As lava escapes and travels before cooling, it often mixes with other elements, such as iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.

When lava first breaks through the surface of the Earth, it is an extremely hot liquid. On average, fresh lava can be between 1,300° F and 2,200° F! Depending on its exact temperature, fresh lava usually glows either orange/red (cooler) or white (hotter).

Eventually, lava cools and returns to solid rock again. However, some forms of lava can flow great distances before cooling enough to solidify. The word lava comes from the Italian word for “stream.”

Although popular movies may make you worry about the deadly power of lava flows, they usually move slowly enough to give people plenty of time to get out of the way. It’s rare for anyone to die as a direct result of a lava flow, but it can be extremely damaging to land and property in its path.

Active lava flows at volcanoes might move several feet per minute when hot. As the lava flows cool, they slow down to a rate of only a few feet per day.

Geologists in Hawaii keep a close watch on active lava flows. They use handheld global positioning system (GPS) receivers to map lava flows as accurately as possible.

The GPS receivers use radio waves from satellites orbiting the Earth to pinpoint locations within 15 feet. In this way, geologists can monitor lava flows that may be advancing toward areas where people live.

 

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    • It’s kind of “cool” to think that rocks can melt when they get hot enough, isn’t it, :D? Thanks for your comment! :-)

  1. Lava sounds really dangerous, of course I always knew that lava was but you make it sound really dangerous, I mean really really dangerous.

    • Did you know there are special scientists that study volcanoes and lava, Beatrice? They are called volcanologists! :-)

  2. I LOVE today’s video!!! not only because volcanoes are such a powerful force on Earth, but because my Aunt lives in Hawaii County, HI and works at Volcanoes National park. When we wen to visit her, we saw the Killuea Volcano in real life! It was amazing because you can see steam in fields just rising out of the ground, and at night, you can see the lava. I’ve never seen anything like it before!!

    I think that tomorrow’s wonder is about elephants because Dumbo is an elephant. I don’t think I’ll br right, but it’s my best guess!! :)

    • That is SO COOL that you got to see a volcano that closely, Meredith/MC! Thank you for sharing your adventure with everyone in Wonderopolis! :-)

  3. I would just like to add that I can’t believe how strong lava’s forces can be. Like how they melt and ooze through rocks.

    • We’re glad you visited this Wonder of the Day®, Trevor! It’s fun to learn new things, isn’t it? :-)

    • We’re glad you liked it, Cameron! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis today and for your great comment! :-)

    • That’s AWESOME that you learned lots about lava from this Wonder, Muna! We know you will do WONDERfully on your report! :-)

    • Thank you for letting us know that you liked this Wonder of the Day®, Cameron! We appreciate comments from our Wonder Friends! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® about lava, Cassidy! We hope you learned some “COOL” new things about molten rock! :-)

  4. I love the video of the lava. It was so cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!. I would see if my brother would check out this wonder. ;)

    • Thanks so much for sharing this Wonder with your brother, Natasha! We LOVE hearing about families WONDERing and learning together in Wonderopolis! :-)

  5. There is this game called minecraft and it is really cool.maybe you guys will put it on wonderopolis one day.

    • Thanks for sharing what you’d like to learn more about in a future Wonder of the Day®, Dynamite! We appreciate your comment! :-)

  6. ….I did not know it burned THAT hot not only that but it can be white if really hot. I did not know that because I had never seen white lava before. Comes to show you learn something new every day.

    • YOWZA, we can only imagine how hot it must feel when lava turns white! Can you imagine, Tyler J? We are so happy that this Wonder really got you thinking– it’s so much fun to use your imagination and learn about new and interesting things together! Great work! :)

  7. This video was certainly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen! It was SUPER interesting and I just wanted to see more and more. Honestly, I think I could watch, or even stare, at that video for hours.

    • What a great adjective, Wonder Friend Polo! We hope you are never around hot lava to know what it feels like! Thanks for WONDERing with us and describing what you see! :)

    • What an awesome connection to your lesson, Mrs. Vincent’s Class! It’s so cool that our lava Wonder helped our Wonder Friends to learn even more today! HOORAY for WONDERing on Wednesdays! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • Great Question, Emma! Lava comes from deep inside the Earth where rocks melt and turn into hot liquid magma. Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How hot is lava?
  • What is lava made of?
  • How fast does lava move?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Want to learn more about volcanoes? Become a volcano explorer with this fun interactive activity from Discovery Kids!

Have you ever seen a lava lamp? They’re really cool lamps that look like they’re filled with lava.

With just a few simple items, you can make your very own homemade lava lamp with these fun projects:

 

Still Wondering

Hawaii is known for more than its beaches. It’s also the home to several volcanoes! Visit National Geographic Xpeditions’ Eco-Cycle: Finding the Parts of an Ecosystem lesson to learn more about the ecosystems in Hawaii, as well as the plants and animals that make up the ecosystems.

 

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