Phenomena

Holiday Fluids: What is Fire?

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Snowy holidays and long, dark nights are a great time to sit by the fire or enjoy some candlelight. We’ve talked before about how buoyancy affects a flame’s shape, how atomization mixes liquid fuel and oxidizers, how flames propagate, how internal combustion works and how instabilities can end combustion. But in all that we haven’t addressed what fire actually is! Combustion is a chemical process–a reaction between a hydrocarbon fuel and oxygen, but the flame we’re accustomed to seeing is a combination of blue light produced by the complete reaction and incandescent red/orange/yellow light from glowing soot particles produced when there is insufficient oxygen for the reaction. If you have time after the Minute Physics version, this video from Ben Ames has a wonderful explanation of flames. Of course, if you just prefer your holiday fun with more explosive high-speed videos, you’re going to want to see this Christmas tree made from detonation cord (see 2:40 for the start of the best part). This wraps up our holiday-themed fluid dynamics series. Happy holidays from FYFD! (Video credit: Minute Physics)

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