|MadSci Network: Physics|
Hello Matthew, Myrtle Beach in the Summer! Is it hot there? I'm going to assume that you mean "why is it so hot inside the car after it's been parked outside in the sun". The explanation can be found in a branch of thermodynamics called "heat transfer". There are three basic methods of heat transfer; conduction, convection, and radiation. This phenomenon deals with all three. Radiation: The sun is the source of the energy responsible for increasing the temperature in the parked car - the sun radiates this energy. Thermal radiation is electromagnetic in nature; that is to say that thermal radiation encompasses the visible light spectrum, as well as some ultrviolet and infrared frequencies (wavelengths from 10E-1 to 10E2 micrometers*). The car acts as the receiver or absorber of this radiation. A darker color vehicle generally absorbs more heat than a lighter one. If sunlight is hitting the car, it is receiving thermal energy. *Page 598, Figure 12-3; Incropera, Frank and David Dewitt. "Introduction to Heat Transfer", 3rd Ed. Conduction: This is one of the mechanisms which transfers heat from the outer surfaces to the inner surfaces of the car. Although the finish of the car reflects some of the energy away, the balance of the energy is "conducted" or transmitted to the inner surfaces of the passenger compartment. This accounts for most likely only a small amount of the heat entering the passenger compartment, and it is transferred to the air inside by "convection". Convection: Most likely the majority of the thermal energy is transmitted through the glass (windshield, etc.) in the passenger compartment where it is absorbed by the seats,dash etc. Again, dark colors absorb more energy that lighter colors, so be careful on those black vinyl seats - you could get burned!! The process becomes somewhat more complicated here. Initially, the energy would be transferred from the seats/dash/etc to the closest layer of air by conduction, but as the layer of air warms up it becomes less dense (lighter) and rises. This begins the natural convection process as air begins to move in the passenger compartment due to the buoyancy forces. As air is drawn over the hot surfaces it is warmed and becomes lighter and continues the process. Theoretically this can continue as long as the air can absorb heat, reheating over and over. This is probably a somewhat oversimplified explanation, but the three heat transfer mechanisms are appropriate descriptions of the basic problem. How do we reduce the heat transfer from the sun to the inside of the car? By parking in the shade we can minimize the effects of the sun's thermal radiation by letting a tree or building absorb the majority of the energy instead of the car. If we roll down the windows just a crack at the top the lighter hot air can escape the confines of the passenger compartment. Another means of blocking or reflecting the sun's energy is to use the cardboard shields that you may have seen people put behind the windshield to stop the solar radiation from hitting the dash and seats. Well, that's about it in a nutshell! I hope this answered your question. If you require more details such as governing equations for convection, conduction and radiation consult any heat transfer text, such as the one I referenced above. It is probably worth noting here the dangers involved in leaving a pet or small child in a vehicle with the windows rolled up for a period of time. These processes can take less time than one might think and the sun's energy is impressive! Sincerely, Steven Miller Undergrad - Mechanical Engineering San Diego State University P.S. If you are interested in solar energy please see the National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF) website at: http: //www.sandia.gov/Renewable_Energy/solarthermal/nsttf.html
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Physics.