## What is the most explosive and energy releasing combination of chemicals?

#### What is the most explosive and energy releasing combination of chemicals? — RC, Chapman, Australia

A mixture of 1 part hydrogen and 19 parts fluorine by weight is the most energetic possible mixture of chemicals, releasing approximately 13,600 joules of energy per gram. The next most potent mixture is 8 parts oxygen and 1 part hydrogen by weight, releasing approximately 13,400 joules of energy per gram. Because fluorine is such a vigorous oxidizer that tends to cause fires, it isn’t practical for rocket propulsion. The hydrogen/oxygen mixture is the basis for the Single Stage to Orbit rockets that are currently being developed. — Thanks to Gary V. Lorenz at NASA for help on this question.

## How can the total momentum still be zero when two objects are moving rapidly awa…

#### How can the total momentum still be zero when two objects are moving rapidly away from each other?

Momentum is a vector quantity, meaning that it has both an amount (a magnitude) and a direction. When two objects are moving rapidly away from one another, they each have momentums but those momentums are in opposite directions. When you add these momentums together to find the total momentum of the two objects, you must consider the directions of those individual momentums. If the two momentums are exactly equal in magnitude but opposite in direction, they will cancel when you add them together and the total momentum will be exactly zero.

## How does a rocket engine work?

#### How does a rocket engine work?

A rocket engine works by ejecting stored material. It pushes on this material to make the material accelerate and the material pushes back on the engine. If the force that the ejected material exerts on the engine is upward and greater than the rocket’s weight, the rocket will accelerate upward.

Most rocket engines are chemical engines. They combine stored chemical fuels to produce hot, high-pressure gas. This gas is allowed to expand out of a narrow orifice—the throat of the engine’s exhaust nozzle. Gases always accelerate toward lower pressure, so the high-pressure gas moves faster and faster as it rushes out of the nozzle. It reaches sonic velocity (the speed of sound) in the nozzle’s throat and continues to move faster and faster as it flows out of the nozzle’s widening bell. By the time the gas leave the engine completely, it’s traveling several thousand meters per second. A liquid fuel rocket has an exhaust velocity of about 4,500 meters per second or about 3 miles per second. Accelerating the gas to this enormous speed takes a huge force—the engine pushes down hard on the gas. The gas pushes back and propels the rocket upward.

## How does the use of sticks and fins stabilize rockets?

#### How does the use of sticks and fins stabilize rockets?

Sticks and fins both shift a rocket’s center of aerodynamic pressure (center of drag) toward the tail of the rocket and behind the rocket’s center of mass. As a result, the tail of the rocket normally remains at the rear during flight. The passing air twists the tail of the rocket until it’s at the rear of the moving object.

## How is it that gas moving very rapidly is unable to “communicate” with gas or …

#### How is it that gas moving very rapidly is unable to “communicate” with gas or surfaces in front of it?

When gas is moving slowly through a channel, it can respond to obstacles by flowing around them. For example, when the gas encounters a constriction in the channel, it speeds up to flow quickly through the narrowing and its pressure drops. But when the gas is moving very fast through the channel, it has trouble avoiding obstacles and behaves differently at a constriction. Instead of speeding up to flow smoothly through the narrowing, the gas collides with the walls of the constriction and is pressure rises. It just wasn’t able to “sense” the presence of the constriction before it actually hit the constriction. When gas moves faster than the speed of sound in that gas, it can’t anticipate changes in its environment and it doesn’t follow Bernoulli’s equation. That’s why the nozzle of a rocket flares outward to handle the supersonic gas that emerges from the nozzle’s throat. That high-speed gas experiences a pressure drop as it spreads out into the broad portion of the nozzle. The gas’s density drops and its pressure goes down.

## Since an object orbiting the earth is falling as it orbits, does it gradually ge…

#### Since an object orbiting the earth is falling as it orbits, does it gradually get closer to the earth? Would it eventually reenter the earth’s atmosphere and fall to the ground?-MG

If the orbiting object doesn’t interact with anything but the earth, then the answer is: no, it will continue to orbit forever. That’s because, although it is always falling and accelerating toward the earth, its sideways velocity continues to make it miss the earth. It just keeps on missing forever. Moreover, its total energy remains constant—the sum of its kinetic and gravitational potential energies. But if something removes some of its energy, it will gradually shift closer and closer to the earth and will reenter the atmosphere. That reentry occurs for low-lying satellites because they interact with the diffuse atoms in the extreme upper atmosphere. These satellites gradually lose energy and eventually come down in a blaze of frictionally heated material.

## Does the moon orbit the earth or is it more complicated than that?

#### Your answer to question #1393 is fine for the hypothetical case of the earth orbiting around the moon, but I don’t see how it works for the real case where the moon orbits the earth. What is the real reason for the tides? — DM

There is nothing hypothetical about the earth orbiting the moon; it’s as real as the moon orbiting the earth. The earth and the moon are simply two huge balls in otherwise empty space and though the mass of one is 81 times the mass of the other, they’re both in motion. More specifically, they’re in orbit around their combined center of mass — the effective location of the earth-moon system.

Since the earth is so much more massive than the moon, their combined center of mass is 81 times closer to the middle of the earth than it is to the middle of the moon. In fact, it’s inside the earth, though not at the middle of the earth. As a result, the earth’s orbital motion takes the form of a wobble rather than a more obvious looping path. Nonetheless, the earth is orbiting.

I hope that you can see that there is no reason why the earth should be fixed in space while the moon orbits about it. You’ve been sold a bill of goods. The mistaken notion that the moon orbits a fixed earth is a wonderful example of the “factoid science” that often passes for real science in our society.

Because thinking and understanding involve hard work, people are more comfortable when the thought and understanding have been distilled out of scientific issues and they’ve been turned into memorizable sound bites. Those sound bites are easy to teach and easy to test, but they’re mostly mental junk food. A good teacher, like a good scientist, will urge you to question such factoids until you understand the science behind them and why they might or might not be true.

When my children were young, I often visited their schools to help teach science. In third grade, the required curriculum had them categorizing things into solutions or mixtures. Naturally, I showed them a variety of things that are neither solutions nor mixtures. It was a blast. Science is so much more interesting than a collection of 15-second sound bites.