What Actually Happens When You Land In Lava

Illustration for article titled What Actually Happens When You Land In Lava

Over the years playing games, you've probably fallen into lava hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. Yet for all that falling, and dying, and cursing, did you ever wonder what would actually happen if you wound up on a pool of molten rock? Like, outside of a video game?

Advertisement

Wired's Erik Klemetti knows what happens, and is fed up with popular media inaccurately portraying the effects of lava on the human body. From sinking to bursting into flames, games and movies have done it all, yet Klemetti - backed by science - knows the truth isn't nearly as entertaining.

While lava appears liquid, it doesn't behave like, say, water, so assumptions that the human body somehow sinks into it are incorrect. What he says happens actually gives games like Super Mario Bros. a little credit: rather than sinking, the human body "floats", or sits atop the lava, because it's far denser than most other liquids.

It'll still kill you, as being so close to such extreme heat is wont to do (not to mention the severe burns you'd sustain on any parts of your body coming into contact with lava), but you won't sink. So all those times Mario "bounces" with his ass on fire aren't as ludicrous as you may have thought.

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Die When You Fall Into Lava [Wired]

DISCUSSION

sandocalrissian
Sando Calrissian

Question: Is this still true if you're standing on the lava? Remember, when on the surface (defined as any point where a non-signifigant volume is below the liquids top layer) whether you sink or float is determined by weight vs surface area.

This became sort of a thing with mercury; it's true that you float in it, but if you try to stand in it you'll sink to about your knees to waistline (at that point the buoyancy of the under-liquid part matches the downward force of the over-liquid part).

I mean, I'm sure this guy has done his math, but I doubt he's started human testing, yet. It seems pretty probable that he just took the average human density and checked it against the density of active lava.