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back to article COLD BALLS OF FLAME light up International Space Station

At first glance, lighting a fire on the International Space Station (ISS) seems like a good way to earn a Darwin Award and the opprobrium of all humanity. Yet boffins have been doing it for some time in an effort to learn more about how flames behave. Interestingly, is the answer from NASA, which today offered a look at some ISS …

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"spherically one-dimensional system"

what a load of balls, or is this some new definition of one-dimension?

Didn't someone once say the problem is getting scientists to communicate with the public.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "spherically one-dimensional system"

Do look at it in such a scientific way. The astronauts are just bored with their paste and water food, what they are aiming for is getting a barbecue going and throwing a few steaks on the fire.

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Re: "spherically one-dimensional system"

>> getting a barbecue going <<

I have an answer for that; but it assumes spherical chickens of a uniform density in a vacuum.

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Coat

Re: "spherically one-dimensional system"

Don't be daft you can't barbecue on the ISS, the steaks are too high.

The flameproof pressure suit please.

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x(r)

what a load of balls, or is this some new definition of one-dimension?

You may need to think a bit, and wonder how a sphere can be one dimensional. But this is a tech site: if you want to be fed science baby food, go somewhere else.

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Re: x(r)

Baby food would be good this was placental exchange.

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Re: x(r)

The way the flame is dependent on diffusion of oxygen through the depletion zone, each and every point of the sphere can be seen as "one-dimensional" with regards to the reaction system itself.

Mind.. I really don't get how a reaction that not only extracts half of the potential energy of a reaction, but produces poisons to boot can lead to "more efficient combustion engines" through this mechanism. The whole point of a clean burn is to optimise the fuel/oxygen ratio and mixing to produce maximum efficiency (and energy extraction), producing as little as possible in undesireable by-products. Which is what engineers have been cranking their brains on for the past decades.

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Boffin

Re: "spherically one-dimensional system"

From the NASA site: http://mynasa1.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/FLEX-2.html

The advantage of the spherical symmetry is that only one spatial dimension enters the description of the combustion process. This greatly simplifies the mathematics required for modeling combustion processes. ...

In the absence of gravity, small droplets of fuel (i.e., from 2 mm to 4 mm in diameter) burn "one-dimensionally", which means the flame will be shaped a like ball about the size of a large olive that will be centered around the droplet. This one-dimensional nature of the droplet flame allows the science team to easily measure and understand important features of the burning fuel that would otherwise be impossible to obtain on the ground. This particular type of flame configuration allows measurement and observation of very complex interactions in a spherically one-dimensional system, providing insights into the behavior of combustion phenomena that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain in multi-dimensional systems that are typically found in most 1-g fires.

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Re: "spherically one-dimensional system"

Why do they call it one-dimensional, when in fact there are 3, but 2 are unimportant. That's quite a big distinction in my mind!

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Holmes

Re: x(r)

I really don't get how a reaction that not only extracts half of the potential energy of a reaction, but produces poisons to boot can lead to "more efficient combustion engines" through this mechanism

Because it shows us what not to do? Process of elimination? Better understanding of why x doesn't work can give us insight on how to make x1 work better.

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Re: x(r) @ Grikath

"I really don't get how a reaction that not only extracts half of the potential energy of a reaction, but produces poisons to boot can lead to "more efficient combustion engines" through this mechanism."

The biggest waste product of modern internal combustion engines is heat. If we could figure out how to use "cold flame" in them, more energy would be used to move the vehicle, rather than uselessly heating up things.

The end goal *is* to efficiently and completely convert fuel to energy, but at the lower "cold flame" temperatures, producing less waste heat.

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Re: uselessly heating up things

The force that drives an ICE is a result of the burning fuel heating the air in the cylinder, which expands with considerable force. Heat is not a waste product of an ICE, but the energy that makes it work.

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Azimov wrote about the martians

explaining everything from first principles every time.

We have the internet please so dont waste my bandwidth and life showing me what fire is like on earth for two fucking minutes before even mentioning the space station. We're going to need multiple fibre to the home if people start doing HD video of their life just before they tell us what happened yesterday.

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Trollface

Re: Azimov wrote about the martians

" if people start doing HD video of their life just before they tell us what happened yesterday"

Coming soon to FaecesBook.

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Cold Balls of Flame?

Goodness Gracious!

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Joke

Old School "Chemics"

Amused to hear on the Vid the phrase "not hither and yon throughout the flame" (around 2:15 into clip).

Fabulous! I didn't realise that NASA employed 17th Century language in its experiments. Clearly, this explains how the "Space Race" has been running in reverse for the last few decades...they need their Boffins to catch up (and get over the fact that steam-punk is not a revolutionary new inter-solar power source perhaps? ;)

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Happy

Re: Old School "Chemics"

Yon flame burns not as a flame doth burn on Earth when tis held aloft in the firmament by yon machinations of the philosophers of countless nations.

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Unhappy

Love the experiment, but this video is just awful.

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Flame

Eek!

“Normal flames produce soot, CO2 and water. Cool flames produce carbon monoxide and formaldehyde."

I'm definitely sticking to normal flames in any enclosed space then. Give me a lung full of soot any day rather than CO and CH2O.

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DJO
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Re: Eek!

Well yes, but it's rather neat combining death and preservation in one easy-to-breath mixture.

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Find the video of the US Astronaut describing the fire on Mir

Jerry Linenger, with his drawl, describing the flames shooting out of the oxygen generator... etc.

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Spherically symmetric

The phrase is "spherically symmetric" or "isotropic". "Spherically one-dimensional" sounds like a misguided PR attempt at simplifying an already simple concept while still sounding sciency.

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And on Mir

In "Out of the Present", the documentary about (inter alia) Krikalev's 1991 stay on Mir, there's footage of him playing with a burning candle.

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Boffin

Blinded by the light.

I would love to see the effect on the flame if boffins could produce them under heavy gravity (3-5g?).

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Bronze badge

Wow! I figured the converse of NASA

Add in additional dimensions, the fire would be even more controllable an even more important, release less harmful gasses.

No, I'll not permit them to try lighting fire to my TARDIS. Let them make their own.

Besides, some Doctor stole the damned thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re. Great Balls of WTF

Hehe, this is really quite interesting.

I wonder if some ball lightning is just a side effect of updraughts in the storm producing a near zero gravity region?

Don't forget that the equivalence principle means that acceleration is functionally identical to gravity so an air updraught would work equally well.

All it would need is a lightning bolt or just a streamer to ignite the gases and voila!

Also worth mentioning, a lot of BL sightings occur in rural areas where a lot of methane and possibly other volatiles such as carbon dust from soil tilling often end up airborne.

A relevant sighting occurred in the UK where a "ball of flame" appeared over a lady's cooker.

In this case it could have been the updraught forming over the cooker hood which stabilised the BL so it

persisted for a few seconds while the fuel was used up.

AC/DC 6EQUJ5

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