Phenomena

Seeking Magma

A plume of steam and glass shards billows from a well that accidentally pierced a magma chamber in 2009.

In 2009, drillers seeking geothermal energy in Iceland accidentally pierced a hidden magma chamber. After a billowing pillar of steam and glass shards poured out from the hole, it created the hottest geothermal well ever, until the casing failed. Now drillers are preparing to return to the area, this time with the intention of reaching magma. Capturing a sample of magma before it rises to the surface (thereby losing its trapped gases) is something of a holy grail for geophysicists, who otherwise rely on seismic wave detections and observations of magma that’s reached the surface. Building a long-term magma observatory will be an enormous engineering challenge, but the technologies developed may help us explore other hellish environments like the surface of Venus. (Image credit: G. Fridleifsson/IDDP; via Science)

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