Solving this burning question requires starting fires in space.

Ongoing experiments on the International Space Station could help resolve a scientific debate about why some fires burn without producing soot. Made of carbon particles created when fuel fails to burn completely, soot is a pollutant. The particles are linked to health issues, including cancer (SN: 8/4/07, p. 69), and contribute to global warming (SN Online: 3/8/11).

One technique for eliminating soot is by fiddling with the composition of the fire’s fuel and the air surrounding it. Oxygen in the air is necessary for combustion, but air also contains nitrogen, which is inert. By removing nitrogen from the air and mixing that nitrogen with the fuel instead, scientists can produce soot-free flames.

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