Saturday Morning Science Experiment: Melting steel with the sun


56 Responses to “Saturday Morning Science Experiment: Melting steel with the sun”

  1. MajorD says:

    Y’know, fooling around with this kind of tech is what destroyed ancient Atlantis! Right, Chief?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Whoa. That steel flowed like mercury.

  3. Dv Revolutionary says:

    Anon @ 37.

    The steel is soaked in and reflecting way more light than it would be emitting from black body heat. That is the concentrated sunlight bouncing off the steel is way brighter then the glowing orange emitted from molten steel.

    The camera stopped down and stopped down and stopped down some more for that shot. It was cool looking and very different than what I would have expected.

    The after shot does look like melted steel not aluminum.

  4. ndollak says:

    Re: Archimedes & the ships – He may have thought of the concept and wrote about it, but it’s doubtful that it could have been put into practice. A parabolic mirror concentrates sunbeams at its focal point, so to use it as a weapon one would have to bring the mirror to the correct distance from the target for ignition to happen. Outside the focal point, not much would happen. Now, maybe mirrors could be set up to set fire to ships that came too close — but the sun’s movement across the sky would constantly change the location of the focal point, again limiting its practicality.

    I did read a few years ago of a parabolic mirror mounted on a servomotor to follow the sun, which was used to run a Stirling engine hooked to a storage battery. (The “hot” chamber of the Stirling engine was suspended in or near the focal point.) Under clear skies, it generates more electricity than it takes to run its own motor and power an AC all day long. Theoretically, one could use this to keep one’s house cool in the summer and eliminate the electric bill.

  5. kiint says:

    And the tree across the quad!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    @hadlock: Even more tremendous was Project Excelsior. Joseph W. Kittinger reached 102,800 feet,or just under 19 and a half miles,in a balloon… then jumped off.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mythbusters did get it wrong because it has been done before.

    “This contention was dealt with in 1973, when a Greek engineer undertook his own experiment to get to the bottom of Archimedes’ death ray. He assembled 70 soldiers, each holding a 5-feet by 3-feet (1.5-m by 0.9-m) mirror. The concentrated beam reflected by the mirrors set a row boat 160 feet (49 m) offshore aflame. It is possible, then, that Archimedes’ death ray could have worked.”

    source: NPR

    In fact, it takes very little research to find other documented successful experiments.

  8. Anonymous says:

    since when do mirrors reflect heat?

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    It won’t melt steel , but it plays hell with pennies, and atomic ants -

    The Forkner Fresnel Focuser

  10. KremlinLaptop says:

    I’m pro-getting-James May to tell us more about interesting science stuff. From Top Gear to his toys show and this James seems like a genuinely likeable sort of fellow, a more specialized variation of Stephen Fry.

    So you know, screw the ants I’m more pro-James.

    • Notelpats says:

      Please don’t compare Stephen Fry and James May. Stephen Fry is an intellectual and a writer among many other things. James May is just an entertainer.

      • Dewi Morgan says:

        There are so many things wrong with that, I don’t know where to begin. I guess in the order that you presented them.

        Being an intellectual: what do you mean by that, exactly? claims that as a noun, it means “a person who uses the mind creatively” Both qualify, but there’s no real cachet to that. It just means they’re not dribbling morons. Big whoop. Even if either or both are Mensa members, that’s not difficult and doesn’t make the member any better a person.

        Being a writer: both are authors with about ten books each to their credit. Again, there’s no magic badge of awesomeness that you get from writing stuff. If there were, I’d be glowing magically from my BoingBoing comments alone. There are great writers, and lousy ones. There are great people, and nonentities. There is no relationship between those two sentences.

        Being an entertainer: strange that all three traits you chose are shared between both people. Both trip the light fantastic on stage and screen. So what?

        Sounds to me like the differences you’ve tries to outline tell us more about yourself than either of these people: they reveal unabashed snobbery. Are you sure your name’s not Clarkson?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Maybe James May can melt the next car that breaks down on “Top Gear”?

  12. Linds says:

    So Mythbusters got it wrong. How do we alert Adam?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Rob Cockerham at made one of these. I don’t know if he ever melted steel.

  14. _OM_ says:

    …You know, normally I don’t get into the MAKE scene like the rest of the BB crowd seems to, but this is one project I may just undertake. Except I won’t be melting steel. Instead, a much more fun and deserving target would be wasps and wasp nests. Anything to have *real* fun nailing the little bastards that I happen to be hyperallergic to.

    Think of it as a home-tech anti-aircraft weapon toy that’d be more fun to play with than a Johnny Seven OMA…

  15. Dewi Morgan says:

    That’s not James May. That’s Jeremy Clarkson. Yeah, I love him, just because he’s so unabashedly sarcastic and yet always so enthusiastic at the same time.

    Spot the sausage continuity error.

    The melting steel sound feels like a Foley effect to me.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, it’s definitely James May; Clarkson is a lot more pompous

    • General Specific says:

      That is very definitely James May. If it were Clarkson, they’d have tried to put him in front of the beam.

      I like JC, for what it’s worth.

      • Dewi Morgan says:

        GeneralSpecific wrote: “That is very definitely James May. If it were Clarkson, they’d have tried to put him in front of the beam. I like JC, for what it’s worth.”

        Oh… my… goodness. After two comments like that, I had to go and watch it again, to “prove you wrong”. My mouth dropped open: even from the first second of the voice, it’s unquestionably JM, not JC.

        I was wring, and apologise to anyone I misled (hopefully nobody).

        But the scary thing is, before that, I’d have *bet my life* that I’d watched and listened to JC. Very strange, and not a little worrying.

        I think I just broke my mind.

    • KremlinLaptop says:

      No, the fellow in the video up there – with the long hair – is James May not Jeremy Clarkson. James is one of the co-presnters (usually the nerdy one) on Top Gear. He generally is a bit of a nerd, more interested in the internal workings of a transmission than how much torque it can withstand delivering to the wheels etc.

  16. Joe says:

    Mythbusters might have gotten it wrong. They concluded that it took a long time to get a fire started, and conditions had to be optimal. But Sicily has brilliant sunshine for most of the year, highly flammable pitch was used to make ship hulls waterproof, and there’s the element of surprise: if the soldiers have to focus their shields on one spot for 15 minutes, they can.

    Of course the problem is that the invaders have many more than one ship: if you can set only one or two of the ships on fire you just piss them off. And Rome wound up conquering Syracuse.

  17. SKR says:

    Mythbusters didn’t get it wrong. This requires quite precise focus. Not that difficult on a stationary object but lets put that object on rolling seas. Then lets think about that ship trying to get away when a bright light hits them and it is pretty implausible.

    • Aleknevicus says:

      More to that — for the myth to be real, they would have needed to focus on an object a significant distance away. This is much, MUCH harder than focusing on something only a few feet away.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Greek fire, a completely different WMD of classical antiquity, has never been fully understood. It’s generally assumed that it only worked under very specific conditions, both atmospheric and strategic.

  18. InclinedPlane says:

    @Joe the Mythbusters tested the concept in the context of ancient technology, which meant many limitations in construction.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I noticed in the video the “steel” did not turn red then white before melting, but instead stayed metallic coloured throughout the heating…

    Which is weird. As far as I know, steel doesn’t do that.

    But aluminum does. Or, in this case, aluminium.

  20. Godfree says:

    See also Rob Cockerham’s Light Sharpener for how to make one at home:

  21. pmadon says:

    What do you suppose 3500 C would do to a tank?

  22. unmoris says:

    Points for solid use of “By their powers combined”!

  23. jfrancis says:

    Funny story: reminds me of the time I meant to use my x-ray vision to see through someone’s clothing, and accidentally…


  24. Viadd says:

    There are ways (within the technological reach of Archimedes) to aim a mirror to direct sunlight onto a distant target. Mythbusters didn’t use those techniques, and they failed.

  25. Anonymous says:

    EXCELLENT *steeples fingers together like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons*

  26. cosmorphis says:

    So you basically could use this to boil water, to make steam, to turn a turbine, to make electricity, with zero emissions. No need for coal.

  27. Anonymous says:

    i see that everyone just sees this as a giant toy, or a weapon. well, israel has been using this technology for almost years, and they’re producing electricity with it.

    you keep on burning ships.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Why not have a huge glass built in the sky that can scan an entire country, burning everything with the concentrated beam.

  29. pinehead says:

    I’m surprised no one’s tried to call it a “green laser” yet. Green as in ecologically friendly, not 532nm. Regardless, it does get my inner pyromaniac awfully excited. A similar sort of device could be used to drive a steam-powered device in situations where an open flame may not be practical.

  30. hadlock says:

    Sweet. James May has a new science show :googles:

    btw this is my favorite James May science bit, by far. Somehow Top Gear talked the US Airforce into letting James May into the stratosphere @ 80,000ft in a U2 Spy Plane Trainer:

    Nobody will deny Top Gear has a flair for the dramatic, but damn if they don’t make good TV. May’s stuff tends to be less funny, but much more interesting than Clarkson’s.

  31. Anonymous says:

    “I guess that makes me the man with the golden gun…”

  32. WalterBillington says:

    Ah! Use it to separate hydrogen, store it, and run a hydrogen economy. Now ain’t that confusin’!

    Ooooohh James May, Jeremy Clarkson – first in line for my beaming atrocity spree. The former ruins the weekend papers with his vague and lazy writing, if he ever actually writes anything, and the latter … ruined jeans for 10 years.

    And they’re both antiquated. I spit.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Leave the ants alone! :P

  34. Anonymous says:

    Science, its godlike.

  35. JohnRomeoAlpha says:

    Yes I remember the ants…their tiny cries haunt my dreams, and the odor of their sizzling proteins shall be with me always.

  36. Anonymous says:

    It seems to me that obviously Archimedes must have been able to reproduce the effect to some degree otherwise he wouldn’t have known about it. It’s like saying Archimedes just took a wild guess one day that he could create pictures on a screen with electrons. 2000 years later he would have been correct. The myth started in the 2nd century by Lucian so someone somewhere managed to catch something on fire using reflections. None-the-less it would have been great psychological warfare. Would you want to go to war with a city that claimed to have magical weapons only to have one of your ships hulls inexplicably catch on fire?

  37. Baric says:

    The story said that the Archimedes more than two thousand years ago used this principle to burn enemy ships.So he first discovered this,at the same time he was the first to create weapons of mass destruction.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mythbusters tried that a couple times. It barely caught the ship on fire, and it wouldn’t stay on fire for long.

  38. Pantograph says:

    I’m not participating in this topic. You’re all a bunch of anti-antites.

  39. Felton says:

    Let’s hope the ants don’t unite and wage preemptive war against us after they get wind of this doomsday weapon.

  40. Felton says:

    Okay, the puns on this one could go on forever, considering the number of words that start with ant-. :-)

  41. Felton says:

    At least, that’s what I’m anticipating.

  42. PFlint says:

    You’re all missing the point:

    The 2-Second (Solar-Cooked!) Hot Dog.

    (Get Sabrett and Nathan in a bidding war.)

  43. Terry says:

    I’m torn. I’m pro-ant, but anti-hot dog.

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