Admit it, as dangerous as they are, volcanoes are pretty fascinating, right? It’s not unusual to wonder what it would be like to witness a volcanic eruption, with bright red lava bubbling over its top. But wait till you hear about Ol Doinyo Lengai, a.k.a. The Mountain of God, which has more qualities to boast of than just some shiny hot lava.
Well, for starters, this is the only place on earth erupting carbonatite lava, a very bizarre kind of matter full of calcium, sodium, and carbon dioxide and pretty low on silica, the stuff that usually constitutes erupting magma. Unlike the thick, viscous liquid you see in other volcanoes, Ol Doinyo Lengai is famous for its watery, garden-hose eruptions caused by a lack of silica.
Lava is obviously associated with being scalding hot, right? Well, get ready to be shocked because carbonatite magma erupts at way cooler temperatures than other lavas. Typical silicate basalt might show a temperature of 1100-1200ºC, but this one goes down to 480-590ºC, even during explosive eruptions. It doesn’t radiate enough heat to glow boiling red, and apparently a man once fell into it and SURVIVED. Never try this though, because he was severely burnt.
Cool fact number 3, let’s talk colors. When erupting, this lava appears black or grey or even silvery, but upon cooling down, it turns stark white. I’m not gonna lie, it looks very yucky, like runny mud and tar. But it changes colors at night. No. literally, carbonatite magma glows a dull orange or red at nighttime; it is lava after all.
Scientists and volcanologists have been fascinated by and intrigued with the origins of carbonatite from within the earth, but findings are still somewhat ambiguous. On the bright side, their research has led to the discovery and study of such a strange but cool phenomenon!
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