Can You Cook A Steak By Dropping It From Space?

One of the best things about human beings is our ability to ask the absolute weirdest questions that have no bearing on the happiness of our day-to-day lives…and yet, we absolutely need to know the answer.

Even better is when there are people out there with the time, knowledge, and resources to verify the answer, and they do it just to sate everyone’s newfound and random curiosity.

For instance, what would happen to a steak if you dropped it from space?

This was the question posed by Xkcd webcomic writer and science communicator Randall Munroe in his book What If?

“From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?”

He gave an answer based on his “wild guess” but admitted a lab experiment would be necessary to check it.

“For the sake of this simulation, I assume that at lower speeds some type of vortex shedding creates a flipping tumble, while at hypersonic speeds it’s squished into a semi-stable spheroid shape. However, this is little more than a wild guess. If anyone puts a steak in a hypersonic wind tunnel to get better data on this, please, send me the video.”

Image Credit: Twitter

Now, the experiment has been done, and it turns out this is actually a terrible way to cook a steak (particularly if you’re one of those weirdos who doesn’t like to see any pink in the center).

When meteorites get to Earth their outer layers are heated up and burned off, leaving only a cold chunk of the middle left by the time it hits the ground – and the same thing happened with the steak.

Tom Fisher and Thomas Rees were researching hypersonic heat transfer at the University of Manchester and decided to double-check Munroe’s suppositions. So, they used a “21-day matured beef steak” from Sainsbury and placed it in a wind tunnel at Mach 5.

The steak was indeed squished, and the thermal cameras also show the exterior of the steak being seared and blown off. The interior, as supposed, remains cold.

Not that any of us would have the opportunity to ever try to cook a steak this way, but it’s pretty interesting to know.

In my mind, things burn up on their way into Earth’s atmosphere, so I totally would have gotten this one wrong.

What about you? Confessions in the comments!