Astronauts play with fire on board the International Space Station.
When a fire breaks out in space, the basic rule of “stop, drop and roll” that we all learned in school doesn’t apply. That’s because flames in microgravity behave differently than they do on Earth. For one thing, flames in near-zero gravity are circular, not tear-shaped. And even after a flame appears to have gone out it may still be burning. To better understand how these fires burn and how best to extinguish them, astronauts are conducting experiments aboard the International Space Station. One such experiment, called FLEX-2, explores the characteristics of flames using droplets of fuel that are ignited in a test chamber. The steps to perform the experiment are straightforward: place a sample of flammable liquid inside the chamber, ignite the liquid and watch it burn. The research has applications ranging from fire safety to improving the performance of fuel combustion engines.
The droplet is ignited, producing a bright flash.
A flame shaped like a ball forms around the droplet. The white-hot glow is due to the production of soot particles.
Astronauts use a video camera to record the flame as the droplet is consumed.
Watch the video to learn more.
Credit: Science@NASA and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center