Mystery Photo

What in the world is it?

Don’t peek at the answer until you’ve given this a good try! Then, scroll down a bit and the truth will be revealed to you.

(Image Credit: NASA)

Of course, everyone sees the flower in this image. But what’s the flower resting on? And isn’t that a blow torch underneath it?

What you see here is a flower is sitting on a piece of "aerogel," which is suspended over a bunsen burner. What’s aerogel? Well it’s an silicon-based foam that is 99.8 percent air, provides 39 times more insulating than the best fiberglass insulation (which is why the flower resting on the piece of aerogel is not aflame), and is 1,000 times less dense than glass (another silicon-based solid).. Aergogel was used on the Mars Pathfinder rover and is planned to be used in NASA’s Stardust mission, whose purpose is to capture particles from Comet Wild 2, as well as some interplanetary dust.

Aerogel is especially porous on a micron scale. It is composed of individual features only a few nanometers in size. When a particle hits the aerogel, it buries itself in the material, creating a carrot-shaped track up to 200 times its own length. This slows it down and brings the sample to a relatively gradual stop. Since aerogel is mostly transparent – with a distinctive smoky blue cast – scientists will use these tracks to find the tiny particles.