Will a lava lamp work on Jupiter?
March 7, 2010 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Will a lava lamp work on Jupiter? Neil Fraser decided to test it. "To find out how lava lamps behave in super-terrestrial gravity, I built a large centrifuge in my living room. ...it was a rich learning experience as I encountered one metal-shredding and wire-melting failure after another."

OK now do plane-taking-off-from-a-treadmill!
posted by odinsdream (37 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bravo! Another question answered. Why would anyone do this in their living room, though? It seems like the danger of sending some piece through a window or into a bookshelf would be pretty high.

Oh well, anything for Science!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:31 AM on March 7, 2010


That was awesome. Obviously, the fact that there was still gravity acting perpendicular to the many many Gs of centrifugal force affected it somewhat (the bizarre rotational turbulence in the bottom, may perhaps be caused by this?), but the real cool thing was seeing a 42rpm centrifuge carrying a powered lava lamp - built almost entirely of Meccano.
posted by Dysk at 6:31 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty cool, but I'm going to have to deduct points for using "Riverdance" as the soundtrack.

Also, Meccano = Erector Set
posted by cropshy at 6:45 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obviously, the fact that there was still gravity acting perpendicular to the many many Gs of centrifugal force affected it somewhat (the bizarre rotational turbulence in the bottom, may perhaps be caused by this?)

It looked like he had the lamp properly suspended from some kind of pivot, which would keep it aligned with the resulting combined force vector of gravity+centrifugal force. But there would still be a strong Coriolis effect, and I wonder how that changes things?
posted by FishBike at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2010


I am in lab right now. I have access to a centrifuge. And, while I don't have a good way to set up a camera or a lava lamp handy, oh the temptation to take apart a lava lamp and centrifuge the contents at a bit more than a couple g.

Don't tell my boss.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:47 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's hilarious. And beautiful - this guy is either lonely or has an exceptional wife.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:49 AM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'd really love to know what scientific principle the doubters were espousing that would keep this from working.
posted by DU at 6:53 AM on March 7, 2010


Jupiter is a lava lamp. (What an awesome project!)
posted by steef at 6:54 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


From Bklyn: "That's hilarious. And beautiful - this guy is either lonely or has an exceptional wife."

Really? If I were single I'd probably be getting in line. This is awesome!
posted by theredpen at 6:56 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


you just know that the next thing he's gonna try is some lighter than air contraption and see if he can stuff his five year old kid in it....

wait...never mind
posted by HuronBob at 6:59 AM on March 7, 2010


I'd really love to know what scientific principle the doubters were espousing that would keep this from working.

Probably the old "Sentient Lava Lamp Paradox"...
posted by odinsdream at 7:02 AM on March 7, 2010


in case anyone wants to know, the ends of that thing are moving about 15 miles per hour.
posted by empath at 7:11 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would it work on Jupiter? I think the incredibly high pressure would probably crush it pretty quick. We're talking about a planet that is mostly metallic hydrogen

Apparently the gravity is only 2.5g, though.
posted by delmoi at 7:15 AM on March 7, 2010


The temperature and pressure inside Jupiter increase steadily toward the core. At the phase transition region where liquid hydrogen—heated beyond its critical point—becomes metallic, it is believed the temperature is 10,000 K and the pressure is 200 GPa. The temperature at the core boundary is estimated to be 36,000 K and the interior pressure is roughly 3,000–4,500 GPa.

Speaking of which, I remember learning about the planets when I was a kid and no one said anything about metallic hydrogen. I wonder when that changed? (I remember hearing about an experiment that showed the pressure needed to make hydrogen metallic was a lot lower then people expected)
posted by delmoi at 7:18 AM on March 7, 2010


Best phone accessory ever.
posted by Artw at 7:26 AM on March 7, 2010


I don't think my wife would allow the beaver skeleton, much less a giant centrifuge.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2010


Jupiter is a lava lamp.
posted by eustatic at 7:57 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find both the beaver skeleton and the centrifuge an improvement on finding (a) poorly wrapped frozen snakes in your freezer next to the meatballs and (b) horseshoe crabs resting on the front seat of your car.

Also, now I'll know the answer if anyone ever casually wonders whether lava lamps would work on Jupiter -- it was so embarrassing the last time that came up.
posted by theredpen at 8:20 AM on March 7, 2010


I frigging LOVE the internet.
posted by nevercalm at 8:26 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why would anyone do this in their living room, though?

Because there's not enough room in the bathroom, obviously.
posted by scalefree at 8:45 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bathroom is where the microgravity lab is.
posted by Artw at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2010


One of the things that always amuses me about science:
You tell someone you're producing a protein in E. coli and all the sudden your playing God and there are likely to be strange unexpected effects and YOU WILL DOOM US ALL or at least DIE from your HUBRIS! In real life you get crappy yields and the purification is never as simple as it seems like it ought to be.

But you tell people you've build a giant centrifuge out of 22 ga. sheet metal and tiny little screws that are one to two grades lower than anything Briggs and Straton would put on a push mower that pulls 25 amps and is counter balanced with some scrap metal held in place with bread ties and all people think to ask is why you did it in the living room.

Next time Mr. Fraser tries something like this, he should enlist the help of a real scientist!

Because dude - I've so got a mig welder and a metal lathe and if we can find a tread mill with a working motor on special trash day, we could do a lava lamp at 20g!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:25 AM on March 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


Watching that video, I just had a vision of the lamp flying off the end and the guy having lava lamp ... juice? ... all over his nice laminated flooring.
posted by Solomon at 9:28 AM on March 7, 2010


FishBike: But there would still be a strong Coriolis effect, and I wonder how that changes things?

Unfortunately the video seems to cut off a little too soon. Viewed from above, the Coriolis effect would cause the wax to circulate in a clockwise direction. But at the beginning you see a strong circulation in the counterclockwise direction. This is caused by the tangential acceleration while the centrifuge is getting up to full speed. This acceleration is stronger on the outside and weaker towards the middle which causes the counterclockwise flow of the oil. But once the speed stabilizes, the Coriolis effect takes over and at the very end of the video you begin to see the expected clockwise circulation.
posted by JackFlash at 9:40 AM on March 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


This is merely a single example of the important R&D work with lava lamps. There are, for example, important applications in cryptography.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:42 AM on March 7, 2010


> That's hilarious. And beautiful - this guy is either lonely or has an exceptional wife.

Or an exceptional husband. Or exceptional partners. Whatever. don't be sexist :)
posted by knz at 10:39 AM on March 7, 2010


Wax? Oil? You mean there is no real lava in lava lamps?

Another entertaining, assumed reality with its origin in my grandmother's living room cruelly destroyed by facts and actual reality.

Thanks, internet.
posted by Vavuzi at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


thank you JackFlash. That was the answer to my question (having watched the video before looking at the comments.)
posted by warbaby at 12:21 PM on March 7, 2010


Oh, and the intro with the survey of the working parts was a brilliant piece of visual exposition.
posted by warbaby at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2010


Actually, it seems I should have said wax and water, not wax and oil.
posted by JackFlash at 12:32 PM on March 7, 2010


Actually, I've heard it's wax and a liquid just slightly less dense than the wax in its liquid phase. That way, the small changes in the wax's density from heat cause it to rise and then fall. So, not water. Or it could be. There are a lot of different types of wax. Pop off the cap and take a swig, and say what it tastes like.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:52 PM on March 7, 2010


Wax (lighter than water), mineral oil (lighter than water) and perchloroethylene (heavier than water) in salt water (adjusted for density) work for DIY lava. But after a while, some of the perchloroethylene migrates into the water and it doesn't work anymore. the secret formula for lava uses only hydrophobic ingredients.
posted by warbaby at 5:25 PM on March 7, 2010


Next up, does a lava lamp fit in Uran... No, that's joke is too obvious even for me.
posted by digsrus at 6:01 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like that he used an amber lamp.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:23 PM on March 7, 2010


> That's hilarious. And beautiful - this guy is either lonely or has an exceptional wife.

Or an exceptional husband. Or exceptional partners. Whatever. don't be sexist :)


sigh. I know what you mean, but sometimes... brevity... and well... I thought ... you know, I agree even, but... just...

posted by From Bklyn at 9:23 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever's in a lava lamp, it's pretty volatile and petroleum-smelling. A coworker's lava lamp got knocked off his desk a while back, you could smell it for days. Also, we all died of cancer.

delmoi: And when I was learning about such things, presumably a little later, the metallic hydrogen core idea was one of those weird, hard-to-prove speculations that nobody was too sure about.
posted by hattifattener at 12:28 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


You guys are silly; everyone knows that lava lamps are filled with unstable anti-particles held in state with magnetic resonance. Opening one would quickly vaporize everything within about a half mile and leave a highly irradiated crater about 100 feet deep.

That's why he's testing to see if it could survive a trip to Jupiter; we need to find some way to get rid of these damn things before people start sticking them on warheads.
posted by quin at 12:54 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


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