How Hot is Lava?

We all know lava must be hot, so no mystery there. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “molten rock that issues from a volcano or from a fissure in the surface of a planet.” The molten rock part implies something much hotter than they used on that short-lived game show, “The Floor is Lava.” So, how hot is lava? Can you fry eggs on it? How about ribeye steaks? Will it melt beer cans? Is it an effective way for mob enforcers to dispose of dead bodies? Inquiring minds want to know.

Lava Unearthed

Lava is just molten rock, usually loaded with lots of silica-type materials and random assortments of other elements like iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, and all the other “iums.” It’s really hot dirt, if you will.

Typical lava, as if lava is ever common, has a viscosity level similar to ketchup. Think of viscosity as the “thickness” of it. Water pours easily and doesn’t maintain its shape when it lands on the table. Ketchup sometimes requires whacking the bottle to come out, and when it does, it maintains its lumps when it lands. As we’ll see in a minute, you could theoretically keep hot lava in a glass ketchup jar, as glass doesn’t melt until it reaches 2,500 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lava is So Hot Right Now…

If you want to know the numbers, you can assume a range depending on the source and makeup of the lava in question. Temperature as its projectile vomited from the earth might range from 1,400 to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless you’ve touched a hot stove approaching 2,000 degrees recently, the numbers probably don’t tell you much, so let’s add some context.

Hot Stuff

Kitchen stoves can get near the temperature neighborhood of lava — sort of. Electric stove burners can reach 1,500 degrees, give or take. Natural gas stove flames can approach 2,000 degrees. However, that doesn’t mean your pan or food inside comes anywhere close to those temperatures. The burner and pan reach equilibrium long before those temperatures are reached, so we’re referring to temperatures that can be generated by the element or flame.

Jet engines are pretty hot. The exhaust from Air Force One’s engines varies with ambient temperature conditions, but you might assume an external exhaust temperature of about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to go Maverick and ignite the afterburners on the F-14 Tomcat’s engines, that’ll significantly increase the immediate exhaust temperature to somewhere in the 2,700-degree range.

On the high side are all those rocket engines used in SpaceX launches. For example, the Falcon Heavy engines contain temperatures in the 6,500 degree-Fahrenheit range, but by the time the hot stuff comes out of the engine nozzle, it’s cooled significantly, to 2,700 or so.

Fireside Lava

Perhaps the closest everyday temperature comparison to erupting lava is the typical campfire. To be sure, it needs to be a good one, not some flimsy excuse using fake logs from the local Safeway.

If you build a good bonfire and let it mature for a while, developing a smokin’ hot set of embers in the base, you might measure the following temperatures.

The bright orange or reddish flames erupting from the top of our Eagle-Scout-worthy fire should be between 600 and 800 degrees Fahrenheit. While the flickering flame tips look impressive, the hottest stuff is generally at the base.

Moving closer to the source of the flames, the whiter flames right near the wood, especially down in the coal area, can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s erupting lava territory right there.

There’s an easy way to find out if you’ve got a competitive fire going. Aluminum melts at about 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your beer can melts in the coals, your fire is hot. Be aware it takes a while for the can to get up to temperature, and you never really know exactly what kind of alloy your beverage can of choice is made from. So, be patient. Several minutes seem to do the trick.

Mob Enforcers

As for lava being a viable snitch disposal mechanism for mob enforcers, the answer isn’t quite so clear. Cremation requires temperatures in the 1,600 to 1,800-degree range, but the process takes a couple of hours to complete. So, barring the whole logistics problem of finding an active volcano nearby…

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