Propagating Flames

Like many flows, flames can be unstable and undergo a transition from orderly laminar flow to chaotic turbulent flow. The timelapse image above shows the propagation of a flame front travelling downward. Each blue line represents the forwardmost position of the flame at a specific time. The flame is essentially two-dimensional, held between two glass plates separated by a 5-mm gap. The V-like points in the flame front are called cusps, and if you look closely, you can see cusps forming and even merging as the flame moves downward. Also notice how the flame front is more uniform near the top of the image, but, by the bottom, it has split into many more cusps. This is one of the indications that the flame is unstable. Check out the full poster-version of the image in the Gallery of Fluid Motion. (Photo credit: C. Almarcha et al., original poster)

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