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Flame Experiments Aboard the ISS Yield Surprising Results

Recent flame-based experiments aboard the International Space Station yielded results scientists simply thought couldn’t happen–combustion in microgravity is a curious thing.

Smithsonian magazine reports on the findings:

Here on Earth, when a flame burns, it heats the surrounding atmosphere, causing the air to expand and become less dense. The pull of gravity draws colder, denser air down to the base of the flame, displacing the hot air, which rises. This convection process feeds fresh oxygen to the fire, which burns until it runs out of fuel. The upward flow of air is what gives a flame its teardrop shape and causes it to flicker.

But odd things happen in space, where gravity loses its grip on solids, liquids and gases. Without gravity, hot air expands but doesn’t move upward. The flame persists because of the diffusion of oxygen, with random oxygen molecules drifting into the fire. Absent the upward flow of hot air, fires in microgravity are dome-shaped or spherical—and sluggish, thanks to meager oxygen flow. “If you ignite a piece of paper in microgravity, the fire will just slowly creep along from one end to the other,” says Dietrich. “Astronauts are all very excited to do our experiments because space fires really do look quite alien.”

Hit up the link below for the full article including how NASA is applying the findings.

In Space, Flames Behave in Ways Nobody Thought Possible [Smithsonian]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/21/12

Comments (4)

  1. Byron Pratt

    That image looks eerily like an abstract of some (possibly Hindu?) god…

  2. RJ

    I thought the exact same thing…

  3. Dave

    Umm, how about an actual photograph(s)? That looks like artwork to me. Correct me please.

  4. manoj kumar

    Beign Hindu, even my first impression was same, Hindu God.
    HTG guys, please provide video if possible of same.

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