Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sub-Zero Bubbles

The temperature plunged to 15 below zero Fahrenheit (-26C) yesterday morning. Here at GJ Laboratories, we wondered what happens to soap bubbles in such extreme subfreezing temperatures.



Before reporting to you on the results of the experiment, let’s see if you can guess which of the following phenomena actually happened:

1. WARM RISERS. The warm air from my breath made the bubbles rise upward to the height of the treetops. Some drifted out of sight and others popped as they touched the branches.

2. MILKY SPHERES. The bubbles turned opaque after about five seconds and froze into delicate white ice spheres. They drifted gradually downward, cracking or breaking silently when they touched the snowy ground.

3. NO DIFFERENCE. There was no observable difference from the behavior of bubbles at subzero and normal temperatures.

4. “PLASTIC” SHREDS. The bubbles floated for a while and then popped, but they popped in slow motion, turning into droopy sacs or ashen wisps like shredded plastic bags, rather than a spray of droplets.

5. CRYSTAL GLOBES. Most of the bubbles popped right away, but a few froze hard and clear with a pattern of frostwork forming from the top down. They stayed in that state for about 30 seconds. After that, the sunlight made the ice sublimate, opening up a hole on the top half of each bubble. The bottom half fell like a cup and dissoved into vapor before it could hit the ground.

Please vote in the poll at left to choose the true answer and explain your thinking in the comments. I'll give the answer on Wednesday, Jan 21. If any Canadians or Scandinavians want to come up with your own experimental results, I will post the best photos or YouTube videos.

30 comments:

www.MaryAnn.ca said...

I have no idea! But this is truly an awesome question you pose. Looking forward to seeing the answer. (PS I voted #5, crystal globes just sound so charming).

Allan Cavanagh said...

I went with 5 as well, after seeing the Boing Boing video of warm water being sprayed from a squirty bottle in sub-zero temperatures and freezing into tiny shards, I think that's the closest match!

Orlando "O2" Medeiros said...

I live in a tropical country that never sees sub-zero temperatures, so I'm going to take a guess based on my high-school physics...

I voted Plastic Shreds, but I think it'd be a mix of Milky Spheres and Plastic Shreds as the moisture inside the bubbles condensates and freezes (making them white), and the soap in the surface coalesces into a goopy-like substance.

DavidStill said...

I went with plastic shreds, because I remember seeing something similar when blowing bubbles in colder weather. The soap didn't become brittle, just less viscous. I've never blown bubbles in sub-zero conditions, though, despite coming from Finland. And -26C is pretty cold even in Finland.

Eerie Eric said...

CRYSTAL GLOBES

seemed like the prettiest answer, haha.

however, i'm more concerned with these imposter tron goggles? there is no substitution for the real thing! i'm just hoping there are in the shop for repairs....

long live trong goggles man!

Amanda Tarr said...

Plastic Shreds!

Although sometimes the bubbles will land on a cold surface as "milky spheres" and then pop later.....

I grew up in northern Illinois, and used to do this as a kid. Back then I thought that the floating shards of the popped frozen bubble resembled faries :)

It's fun, isn't it????

René PleinAir. said...

Crystal globes

Julia Lundman said...

haha! you are awesome!

my guess is milky spheres

Ginger*:)* said...

This sounds like so much fun! We endured -12 and today it warmed up to 12 above... I can't write any more because I have to go find my bubble stuff....

Scott Flanders said...

I don't think there will be any difference. The bubbles are not made from water only, but have bubble mix/soap in them. This alters the freezing point of the water. I think it might in some way be similar to the affects of anti freeze and will prevent the bubbles from solidifying...

Erik Bongers said...
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Erik Bongers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Bongers said...

Very funny.
Let's see...

I immediately rule out answer 5. Bubbles won't freeze top-down because heat rises, ergo, the upper part of the bubbles should be warmer than the lower parts.

Also ruling out answer 4.
There's no such thing as slow popping. Either a pop is instant or there's no pop at all.

Ruling out answer 2. Milky spheres? I think not!. The very thin layer of water/soap could not possible transform into crystals.
Primo because of the mixture soap/water and secondo because the minute a crystal forms, the fragile surface tension that holds the bubble together is broken and thus the bubble breaks.

Let's see...only left with two options, in casu, warm risers or no difference...
Since with both options the bubbles persist for some time and since the difference between the temperature in the bubble and outside the bubble is significantly bigger than on a warm day, the bubbles will rise higher than on a warm day and thus...:

Alea iacta est!
The only scientifically possible answer IS and MUST BE:

1. WARM RISERS.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

(tell me honestly...the above pseudo science babble with an undertone of 'I must be right' really gives you the desire that I will win this, doesn't it? And don't you just love people that use latin quotes all the time...)

Andrew Wales said...

It's a good thing you were wearing your safety goggles for this!

macseamus1 said...

no difference because of the glycerin

sean

Eerie Eric said...

to make things more difficult for everyone, i've found videos on youtube that support at least 3 of these options for blowing bubbles in freezing weather....

stakes are high, dont guess wrong!

marybullock2 said...

Why just Canadians and Scandinavians? Here in Maine the temperature drops below zero too.
Mary
The Figurative Realm of Mary Bullock

James Gurney said...

Sorry Mary--Maine, Alaska, Siberia, McMurdo Station...wherever it gets cold enough.

Yeah, Eric, it's too bad the Tron Googles are in the shop. It happened when my dragoncopter hit some pterosaurs and I had to ditch it in the Hudson.

erika* said...

No matter how much I'd love to believe the second choice is real, the logical part of my mind says the fifth seems the more believable one. Physically, the first one seems to be the right choice - but I'd like to imagine that the fifth one is the right answer. We're melting right now at California, though - so it's based in pure imagination.

Carol said...

Warm Risers. I chose crystal globes first, as they break at the top where the warmest part of the breath would hoover. Upon looking at the picture....I think warm risers. I left my dish detergent in the car overnight, my bottle of water was frozen but not the detergent. I think the cold helps the viscosity of the soap, slowing its mixing with the moisture in the breath. We camped out on Lake Havasu in 128 degree heat one summer and the bubbles wouldn't hold their shape. (could have been a cheap batch of bubble soap)

dzart said...

I would like to entertain the possibility of bubbles freezing to beautiful spheres of ice, but logic tells a soap bubble would pop the instant an ice crystal formed on its surface, so I vote for no difference.

Antti said...

Hi from Oulu, Finland. It's just -7C (-19F) here now, so cannot test in comparable conditions. However, based on my hunch and experiences with low temperatures here, I'd guess that number 3 is what happened.

Jen Z said...

Hi! Aren't #one and #three the same? 'Normal' bubble behaviour for me was always drifting up up and away...
I voted for no difference because, as lovely as it sounds, ice globes are rather unlikely. The plastic shreds theory also sounds plausible if the soap in the bubble solidifies as the water freezes and consequently evaporates, but I have cast my vote. I'm also looking forward to finding out what happens. That's pretty darn cold!

nana said...

I'm guessing plastic shreds... The droopy sacks sounds like the air in the bubbles is cooling down, causing the volume to shrink.

I spent over 16 years in northern Sweden, to think that I never thought of doing this! Cool experiment!

Meredith D. said...

I picked "plastic shreds." As much as I would like to imagine that they freeze into spheres, I think it's more likely they just droop and fall apart as the water starts to freeze.

slflew said...

After extensive youtube research, I chose plastic shreds.

Bill Guffey said...

I picked "warm risers". Why? A hunch. Figured the soap would change things up a bit.

Howard said...

I'll go with "no difference". It is the least exotic answer, something inside hopes it will be more romantic.

cegebe said...

Those who have some kind of empirical evidence seem to choose plastic shreds.

But I love latin quotes as well as hot air balloons, so I'll follow Erik Bongers and say warm risers.

cegebe said...

By the way, I do live in Scandinavia, but here in the southern part (Denmark) temperature actually rarely drops below zero, so I'll have to rely on pure speculation anyway.