How Flames Expand

Combustion is a remarkably complicated phenomenon fluid dynamically. The schlieren images above illustrate a couple of the variables that affect flame propagation. The top image shows an idealized, essentially spherical flame expanding in a quiescent hydrogen-air mixture at atmospheric pressure. The middle flame is expanding in a high-pressure environment, similar to an internal combustion engine. The lowest image shows a flame in a highly turbulent environment, which is also typical of internal combustion engines in order to promote mixing of the air and fuel. (Photo credit: C.K. Law, S. Chaudhuri, and F. Wu)

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