The Structure of the Blue Whirl

A blue whirl.

Several years ago, researchers discovered a new type of flame, the blue whirl. Now computational simulations have helped them untangle the complex structure of this clean-burning flame. Their work shows that the blue whirl is made up of three types of flames, which meet to form a fourth.

The conical base of the whirl is a fuel-rich flame in which the fuel and oxygen are initially well-mixed. Above that is a diffusion flame, where the fuel and oxygen are initially separate and the flame’s ability to burn is limited by how readily the two mix. Along the sides of the blue whirl is a third flame type, visible only as a faint wisp. Like the first flame, this one is premixed, but it contains much less fuel than oxygen. Finally, those three flames meet in the bright blue ring of the whirl, where the ratio of fuel and oxygen is just right to burn the fuel completely. (Image and research credit: J. Chung et al.; via Science News; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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