March 9, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Water Can Get Hotter than the Sun

When vacuum bubbles form in turbulent water, they can collapse violently in a process called cavitation.  Scientists reporting in Nature1,2 March 3 showed that the energy of cavitation can heat the plasma in the bubble to 15,000 degrees Kelvin – hotter than the surface of the brightest stars.  The resulting flash can sometimes be seen by the naked eye.  Science News reports that some believe thermonuclear fusion might take place in plasma within the collapsing bubbles under such high temperatures; imagine that happening in cold flowing water.  See also the explanations on Physics Web, Science Now, and Science News.


1Flannigan and Suslick, “Plasma formation and temperature measurement during single-bubble cavitation,” Nature 434, 52 – 55 (03 March 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03361.
2Detlef Lohse, “Sonoluminescence: Cavitation hots up,” Nature 434, 33 – 34 (03 March 2005); doi:10.1038/434033a.

This is the kind of amazing scientific fact that can inspire a youngster to take an interest in science.  Cavitation can produce such violence in water that it can rip apart steel propellers and erode through solid concrete in dam channels, such as happened at Glen Canyon Dam in 1983 (see videos at Open Video Project).  Cavitation may have been one of several effects in a worldwide flood that could have made mincemeat of solid rock with no trouble at all (see CRS article).

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Categories: Physical Science, Physics

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