Block of the Week: Lava

Apparently, not safe to drink. Who knew?

Before there was life in Minecraft, before villages and temples, before pigs and chickens and zombies, even before there were trees, there was lava.

Lava was added to the game on 16 May 2009, before Minecraft even really had proper version numbers. It was implemented a few days later, alongside water blocks, spreading by duplicating itself to open horizontal and downward squares. Though it was another few months before it actually hurt the player. Can't we ever go back to those days of peace between molten rock and mining man? Nope, BURN BURN BURN.

Today, lava spawns naturally in Minecraft in a whole bunch of places. The easiest location to find it is in the nether, where it forms vast seas below y-level 31. But it'll also spawn in the overworld, replacing air blocks in caves at the bottom of the world. Be very careful digging through rock below y-level 10 because it's very easy to find yourself face-to-face with a surprise lava pool that incinerates all the precious diamonds you just painstakingly collected. No point crying about it. The lava will just incinerate those tears too.

While the hot underground pools of molten rock in Minecraft are referred to as lava, the word "lava" in the real world only applies to molten rock above the surface of the Earth. Geologists call it magma when it's still underground. Personally, I think they're just splitting hairs, but they know where all the lava/magma is so I'm not going to say that to their faces.

There are many different kinds of lava, just like there are many different kinds of rock, with some flowing slowly and others flowing fast. The thickness of the lava coming out of a volcano will change the volcano's shape, with those that flow slowly building up higher volcanoes, and those that flow faster making a flatter cone. Not that many people have been killed by lava in the real world because even faster flows are usually slow enough for people and animals to escape. Hooray! Of course, this means that if lava does finish me off in the end, I should be really ashamed of myself. People will be giggling through my funeral.

In both the real world and Minecraft, incineration is what lava does best. Players, mobs and animals will take two hearts of damage every half second they're in contact with lava, as well as setting them on fire. The longer you're in the lava, the longer you'll burn when you get out. The exceptions are nether mobs, which are immune to fire damage, as well as anything affected by a potion of fire resistance. As you might imagine, it's worth carrying one of those (or at the very least a bucket of water) when you're mining.

The damage isn't just limited to players, though. Occasionally when you're exploring the world you'll come across an unexpected forest fire, usually sparked by a pool of lava on the surface. Lava can set flammable blocks aflame in a 3x3 square directly above the lava, and a 5x5 square above that, so take that into account when you're building a lava trash can in your wooden hut.

But under the right circumstances, lava can also be a force for creation. it can produce infinite amounts of cobblestone, or finite amounts of stone and obsidian, when it interacts with water. Try experimenting with putting blocks of lava and water together in different positions in Minecraft and see how it reacts! Just don't try that same experiment in the real world. It'll get you into hot water fast!