Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland are one of the most famous examples of columnar jointed volcanics.
Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland is one of the most famous examples of columnar jointed volcanics. (Photo: Aitormmfoto/Shutterstock)

From travertine terraces to eerie crater lakes, our planet has quite a knack for churning out surreal landscapes.

Some of the strangest of those natural formations are created through volcanic processes, like the odd basaltic rock columns found at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland (above). This destination's name is in reference to its seemingly artificial appearance — before we knew much about geology, locals believed the rock formation to be the work of ancient giants.

In the video below, geologist Nick Zentner gives us a two-minute lesson on the science behind these strange basalt rock formations by climbing to the top of Elephant Mountain in Othello, Washington.

According to Zentner, "The tops of columns have well-defined polygonal shapes: pentagons, hexagons, octagons, etc. Cracks with these shapes in nature usually indicate contraction of surfaces — in this case, a cooling lava flow that took perhaps up to 100 years to completely cool."

In fact, scientists were curious to know more about how that process worked. In a 2018 study, researchers at the University of Liverpool identified the temperature at which magma cools to form these columns. They built a device to help replicate how the geometric columns were formed.

They found that when rocks cooled between 90 and 140 degrees Celsius below the point at which magma crystallizes into a rock (980 degrees), they started to fracture. Using that information, researchers believe that the columns at Giant's Causeway, as well as Devils Postpile in California, formed at temperatures between 840 and 890 degrees Celsius, reports UPI.

Although the Giant's Causeway is the most famous example of this type of geological formation, you can find columnar jointed volcanics all over the planet. Here are just a few you shouldn't miss!

Cape Stolbchatiy — Kuril islands, Russia

Columnar jointed volcanics of Russia's Kunashir Island
(Photo: Evgeny Gorodetsky/Shutterstock)

Fingal's Cave — Staffa, Scotland

Columnar jointed volcanics of Fingal's Cave
(Photo: Steve Allen/Shutterstock)

Devil's Tower National Monument — Crook County, Wyoming, U.S.

Columnar jointed volcanics of Devil's Tower
(Photo: Steve Bower/Shutterstock)

Svartifoss — Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Columnar jointed volcanics of Svartifoss, Iceland
(Photo: javarman/Shutterstock)

Zlaty Vrch — Usti, Czech Republic

Columnar jointed volcanics of Zlaty Vrch, Czech r=Republic
(Photo: Kuttelvaserova Stuchelova/Shutterstock)

Basaltic Prisms of Santa María Regla — Hidalgo, Mexico

Columnar jointed volcanics of Basaltic Prisms of Santa María Regla
(Photo: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock)

Reynisdrangar — Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland

Columnar jointed volcanics of Reynisdrangar
(Photo: Felix Lipov/Shutterstock)

Basalt rock formation — Penghu, Taiwan

Columnar jointed volcanics of Penghu, Taiwan
(Photo: Chun Ju Wu/Shutterstock)

Devils Postpile National Monument— Mammoth Lakes, California, U.S.

Columnar jointed volcanics of Devil's Post Pile
(Photo: Chris Geszvain/Shutterstock)

Jusangjeolli — Jeju Island, South Korea

Columnar jointed volcanics of Jusangjeolli, Jeju Island, South Korea
(Photo: Ina Ts/Shutterstock)

Flores Island — Azores, Portugal

Columnar jointed volcanics of Flores Island
(Photo: ABB Photo/Shutterstock)

Litlanesfoss — Upphéraðsvegur, Iceland

Columnar jointed volcanics of Litlanesfoss
(Photo: Filip Fuxa/Shutterstock)

Ganh Da Dia — Phu Yen, Vietnam

Columnar jointed volcanics of Ganh Da Dia, Vietnam
(Photo: Jimmy Tran/Shutterstock)

Garni Gorge — Yerevan, Armenia

Columnar jointed volcanics of Garni Gorge
(Photo: Knorre/Shutterstock)

Cape Stolbchatiy — Kuril islands, Russia

Columnar jointed volcanics of Cape Stolbchaty
(Photo: Игорь Шпиленок/Wikimedia)

Takachiho Gorge — Gokase River, Japan

Columnar jointed volcanics of Takachiho-kyo
(Photo: Sara Winter/Shutterstock)

St. Mary Island — Karnataka, India

Columnar jointed volcanics of St. Mary island, Karnataka, India
(Photo: Srinivasa S/Shutterstock)

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in December 2015.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.