Indonesia's Kawah Ijen Volcano Burns a Brilliant Blue

Indonesia's Kawah Ijen Volcano has an awe-inspiring display of blue light that rivals any natural phenomenon.

March 10, 2020

Like something out of a science fiction movie, the Kawah Ijen volcano in East Java, Indonesia, lights up the night with a bright blue glow. It's a phenomenon unlike most other volcanoes on the planet, but you can uncover its mysteries with a little science.

Red Lava, Blue Flame

The molten rock flowing from the volcano is the same as any other: it glows with bright red, yellow, and orange hues. And during the day, the smoke rising from the cracks in the ground looks white — again, just like any other volcano. But come night, an awe-inspiring display of blue light rivals any natural phenomenon, as you can see in this video from Nick Uhas.

The effect is caused by the fact that the lava emerges alongside super-hot, high-pressure sulfuric gases. The gases ignite when sparked by the red-hot lava and mixed with oxygen, resulting in brilliant blue flames that can reach as high as 16 feet (5 meters) into the air. The sulfur concentrations are so intense that the blue flame can pour down the side of the volcano, making it look like the lava itself is blue (but, despite what viral images may have you believe, it's not).

Blue With a Dark Side

Though there's a fair share of tourism to the site, the volcanos and craters are not just a tourist destination. They're also a place where miners come to collect sulfuric rock. The miners — both adults and children — spend the day in the heat loading cooled sulfuric rock into baskets, then carrying them nearly two miles to collect their daily payment, which is normally less than $10 even after 12 hours of work. The work isn't just hard; it's hazardous. Chronic sulfur exposure can lead to throat and lung irritation, breathing problems, and risk of lung disease. The awe-inspiring blue of Kawah Ijen has its dark side.

This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.

Next Up

Meet the First 6 Awardees of The Explorers Club Discovery Expedition Grant Program

Today, The Explorers Club, a non-profit world leader in exploration, and Discovery Channel announced the first class of awardees to receive approximately a quarter of a million dollars collectively to fund their expeditions. Let’s meet The Explorers Club Discovery Grant awardees.

Adventure and Exploration in Israel’s Ancient Deserts

Israel is a country packed full of history and culture. Head out on an adventure to discover ancient ruins, crumbling monasteries, and lush oases.

Massive Stone Jars in the Highlands of Laos Are Shrouded in Mystery

A grassy plain in the Laotian highlands are home to thousands of huge, ancient stone jars. Visit Discovery.com to learn about the mysterious details that have puzzled researchers for decades.

Allegedly, There Is a Secret Underground Alien Base in Dulce, New Mexico

This little town is home to unimaginable experiments and technologies.

Are These Hills in India Magnetic, Supernatural, or Just an Illusion?

What’s the secret behind these magnetic hills? Are they really magnetic? Well, there are a few interesting theories. While most locals claim that these hills have a magnetic force that is strong enough to pull cars uphill, others are more skeptical.

Austria's Grüner See Has A Park That's Underwater All Summer

This emerald-green lake is one of Austria's most beautiful bodies of water.

Is This Mars-like Desert the World’s Best Spot to Watch the Stars?

Forget Chile’s Atacama Desert, or Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. A petrified forest in Colombia is where you want to go for the best stargazing on the planet.

The Crater Lakes of Mount Kelimutu Change Color All The Time

Whereas other colored lakes often get their hues from certain species of bacteria, Mount Kelimutu's lakes are a bit more mysterious.

The Black Drink, Ethnobotany, and a Lost Civilization in Florida

The yaupon holly, North America’s only native plant that contains caffeine, creates a powerful elixir known as the Black Drink.