Simultaneously expressing itself as a solid, a liquid, and a gas, the common sneeze is one of nature’s grossest miracles.
MIT researcher Lydia Bourouiba has a different name for sneezes, though: violent expiratory events. That’s also the title of a recent study in which her team analyzed sneezes, millisecond by millisecond, with a high-speed camera and sophisticated computer models. What did they find? There’s more to a sneeze than what you see in your hankie—and that could influence our understanding of the way diseases spread. Here’s a closer look at what scientists see when you say a-choo!
- Like a blast of bird shot, the initial “jet phase” of a sneeze lasts only milliseconds but can send an estimated 40,000 droplets of various sizes scattering outward as fast as a car on a highway.
- The largest droplets rocket out of the sneezer’s mouth and rapidly plummet under their own weight within a few seconds. Average distance traveled: 3 to 6.5 feet.
- The cloud grows and slows as it pulls in air from the environment, carrying the smallest droplets up to 26 feet from their point of origin.
- In the “puff phase” of a sneeze, a turbulent cloud of warm, moist air swirls through the air, carrying the sneeze droplets with it.
- Buoyed by the cloud, small droplets can easily stay airborne long enough to reach overhead vents (and thus anywhere in a building). It’s a big problem. But there’s a solution an arm’s length away: Cover sneezes with a sleeve or tissue, wash your hands regularly, and keep those germs to yourself.
Source: Reader’s digest
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