Feeling hot-hot-hot (we’re not)! Check out this solar furnace!
This big, curved, spectacular shiny mirror is the world’s largest “solar furnace”. It’s located in Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, a commune in the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain.
This is one of the sunniest places on Earth, getting over 3,500 hours of sunshine per year. That’s why engineers built this solar furnace here for France’s National Scientific Research Centre in 1969.
It’s used for all sorts of scientific purposes that require a lot of heat: including melting steel; generating electricity or testing materials for extreme environments, like nuclear reactors; testing materials for spacecrafts so they can safely re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and more.
These processes normally use a lot of energy but the solar furnace is able to produce this energy in an environmentally friendly way because it uses the sun, a renewable resource!
The big mirror is surrounded by 63 smaller mirrors located in the surrounding fields and hillsides – these bounce sunshine onto the big mirror, increasing the amount of light that hits it.
The large concave mirror (around 2,000 square metres in size) focuses all of the sunlight onto an area roughly the size of a cooking pot. The temperature in the furnace can then reach higher than 3,000 degrees Centigrade, which is roughly half the estimated temperature of the Earth’s core. Scorching!
Believe it or not, the effect of concentrated sunshine caused problems in Britain last year – by accident! A London skyscraper nicknamed the “Walkie-Talkie” melted parts of a car parked beneath it by reflecting sunlight down into the street.
Here’s a picture of the Walkie-Talkie not on a sunny day:
Chris Shepherd from the Institute of Physics explained the science behind this to the BBC: “Fundamentally it’s reflection. If a building creates enough of a curve with a series of flat windows, which act like mirrors, the reflections all converge at one point, focusing and concentrating the light.”
Engineers were called in to fix the problem!
Images from Wikimedia Commons