With thousands of years to study and manipulate fire, we thought we knew everything there was to know about it. Fire tornadoes, or whirls, for example, are not new concepts to scientists today.
But researchers at A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland have just discovered a new type of fire they are referring to as the “Blue Whirl” — a discovery that opens the door to some world-changing possibilities.
The School of Engineering researchers were originally working on simulating cleaning up an oil spill with a traditional fire whirl in a lab setting when they made the discovery.
Fire whirls consist of a main flame surrounded by a spinning segment of air. As a result, they look much like a tornado in that they are funnel-shaped and twirl like spinning tops. Fire whirls are naturally induced when high heat and rough winds combine, conditions that often occur during wildfires.
To replicate this process in the lab, researchers used a pair of quartz half-cylinders to rise cooler air over a flame. This successfully produced a fire whirl — but, unexpectedly, the yellow flame eventually turned pure blue on the bottom and violet on the top, leading to the discovery of the Blue Whirl.
The Blue Whirl
The Blue Whirl differs from its traditional counterpart in its color and behavior.
Researchers have noted that the fire is blue in color because it contains more oxygen than the common yellow-orange fire. This means the Blue Whirl has enough oxygen to complete combustion with less pollutants and carbon released as by-products.
Scientists believe this quality, along with the fact that it emits a higher level of heat, could make the Blue Whirl more effective at cleaning up oil spills, and other environmentally-harming substances, than traditional whirls are.
In fact, in the very near future, the Blue Whirl may be able to produce new and safer ways of burning fuel!
The differing behavior of the Blue Whirl is what remains a mystery to scientists, however. While fire whirls in general are turbulent, the Blue Whirl is calm, quiet and consistent in its movements.
This might mean the Blue Whirl is a safer and less dangerous force to use.
As this discovery was only just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on August 4, scientists still have a lot of research to do to fully understand the nature of the Blue Whirl. For now, tests will be staying in a lab setting.
Keep your eye out for more news on this fire phenomenon! From the looks of it, it’s set to do some pretty awesome things in the future.