Block of the Week: Glowstone
♫ You can glow your own waaaaay ♫
Occasionally, as you’re exploring the Nether, you’ll spot something bright through the smoke and ash. Suspended from the ceiling, these clusters of blocks seem to have absorbed some sort of energy - they glow with an unnatural radiance.
The first brave explorers to encounter this substance dubbed it glowstone, but - like Greenland and shampoo - its name doesn’t accurately describe the substance’s true nature. Hit it with a pickaxe and you’ll find that it’s actually closer to glass - shattering into a dust that still retains much of the luminescence of its block form. In a stunning coincidence, that block form also happens to be our Block of the Week.
Glowstone was added to Minecraft on 30 October 2010 in the Halloween Update - which also added Jack o’Lanterns, clocks and fishing. It occurs naturally in the Nether, generating on the underside of netherack, but if you’re having trouble finding it then clerics in Minecraft villages will sometimes sell small amounts in exchange for emeralds.
Unless you’ve got a silk touch enchant on your tool, breaking a block of glowstone will shower you with 2-4 glowstone dust, which can then be combined in a 2x2 pattern in a crafting grid to make the block again.
Glowstone’s most obvious feature is that it glows - emitting a light level of 15, making it the joint-brightest block in the game, alongside sea lanterns, beacons, jack o’lanterns and redstone lamps (which themselves are crafted from glowstone). But what’s less-well-known is that glowstone transmits redstone power upward but not downward, allowing for the creation of some very space-efficient circuitry.
The nearest thing we have in the real world to glowstone is maybe phosphorus - a chemical element that was discovered in 1669 to emit a faint glow when you expose it to oxygen. This is a chemical reaction like any other, but one that produces light as one of its outputs.
Phosphorus is a pretty interesting substance, because not only does it glow in the dark, it’s also vital for life. There’s a phosphorous cycle, just like the water cycle, where plants pull it out of the soil, and then are eaten by animals, which then die and the phosphorous goes back into the soil again. Like water, though, there isn’t always enough phosphorus in the right place. Growing food crops in huge quantities means a lot of extra phosphorus, in the form of fertilizer, needs to be added to the soil to feed the plants.
Ground up bones contain a lot of phosphorous, which is why early farmers used them as fertilizer - which in turn is why bonemeal makes your plants grow faster in Minecraft. But no matter how much glowstone I sprinkled on my crops in the extensive research I did for this article, they didn’t seem to grow any faster. So my advice to you, farmers of Minecraft, is to spend your nights battling skeletons in the Overworld - and leave the Nether well alone.