How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 174

What is fire?
The fire of a burning candle begins with vaporized wax. Heat from the flame melts wax, which then flows up the wick because of its attraction to the fibers. The wax then becomes so hot that it turns into a gas and this gas mixes with air at the bottom of the flame. When the temperature becomes high enough, the wax molecules begin to decompose into fragments that react chemically with oxygen molecules. Water and carbon dioxide molecules are produced in the reaction and chemical potential energy is released as thermal energy. This thermal energy provides the candle's light and also the heat needed to sustain the combustion. The glow that the candle emits comes primarily from hot particles of carbon in the flame. These particles emit thermal radiation with a color spectrum that is characteristic of the flame's temperature.

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