Cooking a turkey using friction
Over on the New Scientist website, doedfisk (which I believe translates as “dead fish” in most Scandinavian languages) gained him or herself the title of Internet Hero by asking what height above the Earth’s surface a turkey must be dropped from in order for it to cook nicely on re-entry.
We thought this was the kind of question that just had to be put to Spam and Wilf.
Spam suggested that the issue is not so much the height as the speed at which the turkey is launched, since it is not the altitude that causes the cooking but the friction generated by air passing across the surface of the turkey. Consequently, you need the turkey to be moving at a relatively high speed in order to generate sufficient friction.
However, you can’t make it go too fast or the surface will burn off. Ever seen the size of a meteorite when it lands on the ground? It’s a lot smaller than the original meteor. Wilf suggests you will be wanting to actually eat this turkey when it lands, so reaching a stable velocity where the temperature is high enough to induce cooking will be a necessity, too.
Finally, there’s the biggest problem at all: cooking time. If we take a 10lb turkey, we are looking at approximately four hours’ of cooking time, according to The Science of Cooking website.
Unless we’re firing this turkey at an angle, that means dropping it from a significant height. Remember that we can’t get it over terminal velocity just by dropping it and that’s not really going to cut the mustard when it comes to getting the right temperature through friction. However, we can’t go into high orbit because without air, the turkey will simply accelerate due to gravity and end up going too fast when it hits the atmosphere.
Spam went on with his discussions for quite some time but Wilf had a better plan. Given that it takes a considerable amount of energy to get the turkey to the right height and speed in order to cook it, why not save all that time and quite a significant portion of that energy by simply putting the turkey in the oven like a normal person?
I couldn’t agree more.