Science

No, NASA’s massive Saturn V rocket didn’t melt concrete with a sound or set it on fire a mile away.

Several popular myths have entered the annals of space history, including that the launch of a Saturn V rocket was so loud that the sound itself melted concrete and set fire to grass over a mile away. Unfortunately, like many myths, this is simply not true.

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah created a physics-based model of a Saturn V rocket launch to evaluate its acoustic levels, determining it had a value of 203 decibels. This nearly matches NASA’s own record of 204 decibels, based on a Saturn V first stage test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

For context, sounds above 200 decibels are very loud — ambulance sirens put out 120 decibels, while jet engines average about 140 decibels on takeoff, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “Decibels are logarithmic, so every 10 decibels is an order of magnitude increase,” BYU professor Kent L. Gee, lead author of the paper on the group’s study, said in a statement. “One hundred and seventy decibels would be equivalent to 10 aircraft engines. Two hundred is 10,000 engines!”

Related: NASA’s Mighty Saturn V Lunar Rocket: 10 Surprising Facts

While 200+ decibels is certainly loud enough to rupture an eardrum (Saturn V launch spectators were kept 3.5 miles away from the site for safety), it’s not enough to melt concrete or start a fire. grass over a mile away. . The team suspects that these effects, if they occurred at all, would have been caused by radiative heat from the plume or debris rather than sound.

“Saturn V has taken on a kind of legendary, apocryphal status,” Gee said. “It was an opportunity to correct misinformation about this car,” he noted of the study.

Although the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will be larger and louder than the Saturn V, NASA has since implemented a noise reduction system at its launch pads. For the SLS, 450,000 gallons (2 million liters) of water would rush into the pad during launch, which would lower the rocket’s acoustic levels. The system will protect not only the ears of the audience, but also the payload of the rocket.

The team’s research was published Tuesday (August 23) in the Journal of the Acoustic Society of America.

Follow Stefanie Waldek on Twitter @StefanieWaldek. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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