NASA, the American space agency, is doing its part to help with carbon emissions by having its scientists create fires in zero gravity, The Next Web reported. The agency is looking to discover if it’s possible to create soot-free flames — or at least more efficient flames for those of us down here on the Earth. A better understanding how fire works in zero gravity also allows NASA to create more effective safety solutions for those brave souls on the final frontier, even if it won’t protect them from asteroids such as the one The Inquisitr reported earlier today.
While the International Space Station (ISS) doesn’t have much need for open log fires in itself, the all-but imminent colonization of celestial bodies such as the moon and Mars — which each have different gravitational fields to our home planet — provides additional impetus for figuring out how fire operates when there are less G’s to go around.
The results just happen to be quite beautiful to behold, and NASA has published a video and an explanation on its website.
“The reduced gravity creates flames that look a lot different from the ones seen here on Earth: with the near absence of gravity on the space station, flames tend to be spherical. On Earth, hot gasses from the flame rise while gravity pulls cooler, denser air to the bottom of the flame. This creates both the shape of the flame, as well as a flickering effect. In microgravity, this flow doesn’t occur. This reduces the variables in combustion experiments, making them simpler and creating spherical shaped flames.”
According to project scientist Dennis Stocker, most of the electricity produced in the U.S. is through some kind of combustion process, so the ability to produce more efficient and cleaner flames is something that could have an enormous impact on many lives — especially with the climate situation being what it is right now.
Experiments not only offer the possibility of producing a flame that’s soot-free but could also potentially produce fires that create more soot. Soot is a byproduct of burning organic matter or other carbon-containing materials; leftovers at the end of a flame’s life that simply don’t provide it sustenance. This so-called “black carbon” is a desirable material in itself, having uses in multiple applications.
As far as producing energy goes, any process that involves zero waste at the end — thus optimizing efficiency — is a clear win for any organization working on cleaner energy. However, it seems a key focus is on understanding the partial gravity paradigm.
“Understanding that will be important for fire safety on other worlds, like the Moon or Mars,” Stocker added.