Do you think you could outrun a lava flow? Most of it looks like it’s moving pretty darn slowly, so you probably think it’s pretty easy to evade. But is there anywhere on Earth where it can outpace a human? In short, yes – and in one particular location, it is so fast that it could actually catch up to a moving car.

In this March 31, 2010 photo, magma churns and gushes in the lava lake of Mount Nyiragongo, one of Africa’s most active volcanos, outside Goma, Congo. Mount Nyiragongo is the ultimate symbol of death in Goma, the lakeside city it shadows and has overrun several times. Yet it’s also a symbol of rebirth and resilience for a nation slowly emerging from war. In March, park rangers cleared Rwandan militias from its slopes and reopened the summit for the first time in a year and a half. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

So you’re probably an average human (no offence), because that’s how probability works. The average human walking pace is about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) per hour; the average running pace is roughly 24 kilometers (15 miles) per hour.

With those speeds in mind, let’s put some lava behind you and see if you can escape it.

The most common lava is basaltic, which is as fluid and as free-flowing a lava as you’ll likely come across. Compared to most types, it’s made of a lower percentage of silicon and oxygen chains. These elements form the “framework” of the lava, so with less of them present, the lava less viscous, and it can flow faster.

Say I, being a malevolent deity, picked you up and plonked you on the flanks of Kilauea, Hawaii’s primary shield volcano. On a flat slope, its basaltic lava moves no faster than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) per hour. This is slightly faster than walking pace, but it’s a safe bet that you would be able to outrun it.

Your survival displeases me, so I look around for some lava you definitely can’t outrun. Flying over to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I spy something rather sinister: Mount Nyirangongo, one of the world’s most dangerous and fascinating flaming mountains.

An imposing, steeply sloped stratovolcano, it features both explosive eruptions and effusive lava outbursts, along with a pit of liquid fire continuously boiling within its crater. It’s as close to a real-life Mount Doom as you’re ever going to find, but its insane lava flows makes it arguably more frightening that its fictional counterpart.

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