Saturday, October 20, 2012

Would a lava lamp work on Jupiter?

Neil Fraser, a Google software engineer, got to wondering if a lava lamp would work properly on Jupiter. Deciding it was a question that demanded an answer, he built a Meccano centrifuge to test how a lava lamp would work in higher gravity. As he describes it:
The centrifuge is a genuinely terrifying device. The lights dim when it is switched on. A strong wind is produced as the centrifuge induces a cyclone in the room. The smell of boiling insulation emanates from the overloaded 25 amp cables. If not perfectly adjusted and lubricated, it will shred the teeth off solid brass gears in under a second. Runs were conducted from the relative safety of the next room while peeking through a crack in the door.
Despite the technical hurdles, the centrifuge performed its job well. It turns out that the accelerometers in the Nexus One are badly mis-calibrated; although 0.0 G and 1.0 G are both properly reported, what it reports as 2.0 G is actually 3.0 G (Googlers can view the resulting bug: #2485924). As one can see in the video above, the lava lamp continues to operate well at three times the force of gravity. That's slightly higher than Jupiter's gravity (2.3 G) and it is equivalent to launching in the Space Shuttle.
Although I've got to wonder about him risking demolishing his living room in the hunt for an answer, I've got to admire his his persistence and ingenuity in scratching an intellectual itch. You can read more details, and see still of his centrifuge at his page: Lava Lamp Centrifuge

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