A Flame By Any Name

Actor and science enthusiast Alan Alda sets a communication challenge for scientists.

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One of the byproducts of

One of the byproducts of burning is carbon. Particles of carbon are incandescent at high temperature. So you are looking at rivers of glowing carbon particles, swaying with movement of air around them.

Flames are uber-cool. Your

Flames are uber-cool. Your teacher was WRONG! While a flame can come from some chemistry called oxidation, other chemistry can make flames.

The flame itself is just the light emitted by really hot gases, just like the sun (although the sun is a really special 'flame' called plasma...also totally cool and sometimes calles the 4th state of matter==>Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma)

Stuff can 'burn' without a flame, e.g. rust on steel! When stuff burns it often becomes hot gas if the chemistry is exciting enough...hot gas emits light as it cools in lots of interesting ways (physicists love to attach phrases like 'atomic emission', 'molecular radicals', incandescence, pyrotechnics, etc...). This light is what we see as a flame...

In special cases of

In special cases of incompletely combusted organic materials, incandescent embers are carried aloft on the hot air and sparkle and glow, but this actually not part of the flame, which is in fact the glowing gas (i.e. not particulate in nature).