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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Factoid of the Day

Oxygen Molecule (O2)

Water Molecule (H2O)

Nitrogen Molecule (N2)
Airlines sometimes cancel flights due to high temperatures (like 104 degrees Fahrenheit). I can understand this, hot air is less dense, so when it's hot outside airplanes need longer takeoff runs to get airborne. So if the length of the takeoff run exceeds the length of runway, you shouldn't try and take off. But then I come across a statement that high humidity can make air less dense as well and my immediate reaction was that can't be. Humid air can be opressive, it has got to be more dense that dry air, right? No, it's not:
The amount of water vapor in the air also effects the density. Water vapor is a relatively light gas when compared to diatomic Oxygen and diatomic Nitrogen. Thus, when water vapor increases, the amount of Oxygen and Nitrogen decrease per unit volume and thus density decreases because mass is decreasing.
The two most abundant elements in the troposphere are Oxygen and Nitrogen. Oxygen has an 16 atomic unit mass while Nitrogen has a 14 atomic units mass. Since both these elements are diatomic in the troposphere (O2 and N2), the atomic mass of diatomic Oxygen is 32 and the diatomic mass of Nitrogen is 28.
Water vapor (H2O) is composed of one Oxygen atom and two Hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen is the lightest element at 1 atomic unit while Oxygen is 16 atomic units. Thus the water vapor atom has an atomic mass of 1 + 1 + 16 = 18 atomic units. At 18 atomic units, water vapor is lighter than diatomic Oxygen (32 units) and diatomic Nitrogen (28 units). Thus at a constant temperature, the more water vapor that displaces the other gases, the less dense that air will become. - Jeff Haby

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Humid air (clouds) are less dense, which is why they are (generally) higher.

Chuck Pergiel said...

When I first read your comment it was obvious that clouds are less dense than air. But then I thought about it and realized clouds are made of water droplets, they are not entirely water vapor. Found this explanation: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-clouds-float-when/
Different mechanism entirely.