How Popping a Champagne Cork Is Similar to a Supersonic Jet Engine
This knowledge won't change Champagne's taste, but it may make the experience more profound.
If you haven't dodged out of the way of a Champagne cork like a flying bullet, then clearly you're not living your life to its fullest (or at least its bubbliest). But even though sometimes it feels like those corks are flying towards your face at Mach 2, they reportedly leave a bottle at only around 25 miles per hour. The gases around the cork, however, well, according to a recent study, those can get close to twice the speed of sound—or closer to 1,534 miles per hour.
Under certain conditions, in the milliseconds after a bottle of Champagne is uncorked, extreme conditions can cause a "Mach disk"—a type of standing wave most commonly seen with supersonic jet engines. "The conditions needed to create such shock waves are drastic, but in the very first millisecond following cork popping, all the conditions are met," Gerard Liger-Belair, a professor of chemical physics at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and lead researcher on this paper, told Decanter.com. "The velocity of gases expelled from the bottleneck reaches almost Mach 2, twice the velocity of sound."
Liger-Belair apparently didn't set out to discover this phenomenon. Instead, they were filming corks popping with a high-speed camera to better understand air pressure changes, but once they made the "surprise" discovery, they popped another bottle of Champagne to celebrate. (Literally, according to Chemical & Engineering News.)
Importantly, the bottles used in the experiment were warmer than how most people would usually drink Champagne—stored at 68 degrees and 86 degrees Fahrenheit for three days before filming. Higher temperatures create more pressure inside the bottle, and a bottle stored below 50 degrees Fahrenheit "is not enough to produce such a transverse shockwave" under most conditions, Liger-Belair added. So your supersonic results may vary.
But though Liger-Belair told me this discovery has "no real implications for champagne drinkers" in that it won't modify the taste or aroma of your sparkling wine, he does believe it can affect your appreciation of Champagne. "I regularly give talks which combine scientific facts around Champagne and bubbles with Champagne and sparkling wine tastings," he explained via email. "High-speed video cameras produce powerful and visually appealing images. As such, the fact that champagne cork popping can produce phenomena and images usually found in rocket science (by observing the gaseous jet expelled from a rocket plume exhaust) is so inspiring, and therefore positively impact the tasting. It undoubtedly offers food for thought and inspires a sense of wonder."
Feel free to use it as an excuse to pop a bottle of Champagne as well! Just in case you needed another one.