© iStockphoto/Rick RhayA volcanic eruption of molten lava at night as it flows into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii.
A crew drilling on the Big Island of Hawaii has discovered magma, the molten rock material - never before found in its natural habitat underground - that is the central ingredient in the evolution of planets and the lifeblood of all volcanoes.
The chance discovery far beneath the Earth's surface gives scientists an unprecedented opportunity to understand the important substance.
"As scientists, we've hypothesized about the nature and behavior of magma in literally countless studies, but before now the real thing has never been found or been physically investigated in its natural habitat within the earth," said Bruce Marsh, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at The Johns Hopkins University's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Magma is the subterranean form of what, when it is ejected from the earth in volcanoes and cools, is known as lava. Underground, it reaches temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius, or more than 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Magma resides inside the earth and lava is its equivalent on the surface. But once magma erupts, it begins cooling unusually quickly and it loses any gases that it may contain, so it really is a different animal," Marsh said. "We've never seen, until now, the real animal in its natural habitat. And it's not going anywhere: it's caged, so to speak."