Studying volcanoes is a tricky business. Most active volcanoes hide their magma, pools of molten rock churning at temperatures up to about 2,300 degrees, beneath a rocky crust. When people can see magma firsthand, it usually means a volcano has blown its craggy top, violently spewing magma in the form of lava. Not ideal for scientists keen to learn about the inner workings of a volcano and the conditions that cause it to erupt.
But Antarctica’s Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano, is different. According to Science News magazine, the ice-covered mountain has an open top, its lava lake exposed to the sky and anyone willing to peer inside. Despite its remote location — and an elevation of more than 12,000 feet — Erebus offers scientists one of the best opportunities to study the heart of a volcano.
The magazine reports that for the last four decades, researchers have focused on bubbles of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases that emerge through Erebus’s magma. These bubbles, the magazine says, offer clues about a volcano’s unique physiology — its stability, its origins beneath the Earth’s crust and its ability to support microbial life — as well as insight into the inner workings of all volcanoes.
Researchers have set up microphones around the volcano’s rim to listen to Erebus’s burps, and they have set off explosives to record shock waves and map the mountain’s insides.
Legend has it that Mary Shelley wrote the iconic horror novel “Frankenstein” after a stormy summer night’s dream that had been preceded by telling ghost stories with friends on Lake Geneva. A new biography digs beyond that explanation and explores how Shelley was influenced by the fashionable 19th-century belief that it is possible to bring the dead back to life.
“The Lady and Her Monsters” by Roseanne Montillo is half literary portrait, half scientific history. The book jumps between details of Shelley’s life (itself a compelling tale of love affairs, vibrant discourse, superstition and death) and the many failed attempts by doctors and occultists to reanimate the dead.
Montillo describes the work of scientists — notably Luigi Galvani, the Italian physiologist who experimented with dead frogs and electric currents, and his nephew, Giovanni Aldini, who attempted to restart the heart of a convicted felon — and the gruesome yet popular practices of grave-robbing and public dissections.
Montillo paints a haunting picture of an era in which science and the arts overlapped, a perfect storm in which inspiration for “Frankenstein” could strike. Like a bolt of lightning.