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How Mercury Could Melt an Airplane

In addition to dynamite and tear gas, you shouldn’t bring mercury on board an aircraft.

But what’s the worst that could happen?

Oh, the plane could melt.

But how could aluminum–seemly the perfect solution to something that would rust (iron)–be so vulnerable?

It has to do with how alumninum invisibly rusts.

Popular Science tackled this:

But when aluminum rusts, it forms aluminum oxide, an entirely different animal. In crystal form, aluminum oxide is called corundum, sapphire or ruby (depending on the color), and it is among the hardest substances known. If you wanted to design a strong, scratchproof coating to put on a metal, few things other than diamond would be better than aluminum oxide.

By rusting, aluminum is forming a protective coating that’s chemically identical to sapphire–transparent, impervious to air and many chemicals, and able to protect the surface from further rusting: As soon as a microscopically thin layer has formed, the rusting stops. (“Anodized” aluminum has been treated with acid and electricity to force it to grow an extra-thick layer of rust, because the more you have on the surface, the stronger and more scratch-resistant it is.)

This invisible barrier forms so quickly that aluminum seems, even in molten form, to be an inert metal. But this illusion can be shattered with aluminum’s archenemy, mercury.

What’s crazy is that the destruction happens from the inside-out.

Check out this YouTube video of it:

So if you were considering bringing your mercury collection with you, kindly leave it home!

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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