Weightless flame balls

It’s really weird (and sad) to read excited science stories that were published a week ago about the interesting experiments taking place … aboard the Columbia’s latest mission in space. But there was, indeed, some cool stuff going on — including research into the behavior of flames in zero-g situations. Apparently you get “flame balls”, which burn incredibly small amounts of fuel, a trick that car engineers would love to learn more about. You also get some just plain wacky flame physics:

They’re creatures of space: tiny flames that curl into balls and flit around like UFOs. They burn using almost no fuel at all, dim and often hard to see. … Ronney says he has no idea what would make a flame ball fly around in a spiral. “Flame balls move for two reasons,” he explains. “First, when they exhaust the fuel in their vicinity, they drift toward regions with more. They follow the fuel like a little organism. Second, they can drift due to slight accelerations of the shuttle.” Neither of these effects would produce a corkscrew flight path.

More about it on the NASA science site!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson