MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Is it possible to make a lightbulb explode by holding a lighter up to it??

Date: Tue Oct 25 11:52:38 2005
Posted By: Elizabeth DeBartolo, Faculty, Mechanical Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology
Area of science: Physics
ID: 1129486364.Ph


Well, your Dad is partly right. The filament in an incandescent light bulb burns at about 2500 degrees C (about 4500 degrees F) - pretty hot! A number of websites for companies that sell different types of torches or lighters rate the temperature of a butane or propane or even a candle flame as being in the range of 1200-1400 degrees C - well below the temperature of the light bulb filament...not the surface of the bulb.

The problem is that the actual bulb surface isn't touching the filament - but if you were to hold a lighter up to the bulb, you could actually touch the bulb surface with the 1400 C flame. This may cause a problem if the bulb is wet - you could get high thermal stresses due to nonuniform temperatures on the surface because of the neighboring hot and cold regions where the bulb is either wet or heated - but I haven't actually checked this on a real bulb, and I don't recommend that you try it either!

I did find a recall of a particular brand of bulb that was known to break unexpectedly, so it's possible that you just had a bad bulb ((look here for the CSPC notice).

Good luck with the landlord!

Beth DeBartolo

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