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HOME > BLOG > From the Staff > Blog Post

Audio: Blue Whirl -- A New Form of Combustion

Robert FrederickOct 17, 2016

It seems surprising to discover a new kind of combustion today. Humankind has harnessed fire for millennia, so we’ve had plenty of time to burn things up, or burn things down. But the discovery of the blue whirl—an intense form of fire whirl, or “firenado” (right) as they're known colloquially—only came about recently. No one before had ever seen or, in the lab, let a fire whirl burn so intensely (which makes sense because they're really dangerous). That’s according to Elaine Oran, a member of the team at the University of Maryland that discovered the blue whirl. She says the formation of the blue whirl also could have something to do with making a fire whirl from burning liquid fuel on top of water. 

Clearly, there’s a lot more to learn about this new form of combustion, but researchers do know that it burns soot-free because the blue whirl is, well, blue. Depending on temperature, soot in fire radiates as white, yellow, orange, or red.

I spoke with Oran about her team’s experiments after reading the research paper she and her colleagues Michael Gollner and Huahua Xiao published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


To learn more about blue whirls and see a video of them in action, see my Sightings article in the November–December 2016 issue.


This post is published in From the Staff


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