Lighting Engines

Combustion is complicated. You’ve ideally got turbulent flow, acoustic waves, and chemistry all happening at once. With so much going on, it’s a challenge to sort out the physics that makes one ignition attempt work while another fails. The animations here show a numerical simulation of combustion in a turbulent mixing layer. The grayscale indicates density contours of a hydrogen-air mixture. The top layer is moving left to right, and the lower layer moves right to left. This sets up some very turbulent mixing, visible in middle as multi-scale eddies turning over on one another.

Ignition starts near the center in each simulation, sending out a blast wave due to the sudden energy release. Flames are shown in yellow and red. As the flow catches fire, more blast waves appear and reflect. But while the combustion is sustained in the upper simulation, the flame is extinguished by turbulence in the lower one. This illustrates another challenge engineers face: turbulence is necessary to mix the fuel and oxidizer, but turbulence in the wrong place at the wrong time can put out an engine. (Image, research, and submission credit: J. Capecelatro, sources 1, 2)

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