Students debunk the myth that Icarus 'soared too high'

Posted by ap507 at Apr 24, 2014 11:55 AM |
Centre for Interdisciplinary Science students publish paper on the science behind the mythological character's waxen wings
Students debunk the myth that Icarus 'soared too high'

© Wikipedia; Jacob Peter Gowy's 'The Flight of Icarus'

The popular story of Icarus from Greek mythology suggests that he soared too close to the Sun while flying with waxen wings which melted under the intense heat - causing Icarus to plunge to his death. This story has since permeated Western culture as an allegory warning against over-ambition.

Students Jonathan Cogle, Jake Cox, and Jimmy Pierce from The Centre for Interdisciplinary Science have published a new paper looking into the Icarusian myth, specifically at the likelihood that the wax in his wings would have melted during his flight - and have found that it would have taken between about 43 and 70 minutes for the wax to melt, and the distance from the Sun would have played no part in the process.

The findings suggest that as long as Icarus stayed within breathable atmosphere and didn’t fly into any significant weather systems, the amount of sun hitting the wings would be almost constant. In the grand scheme of things, changing the distance between Icarus and the Sun would make no difference - flying 10 meters off the ground or 10,000 would have little effect on the speed in which his wings would melt.

In fact, the paper suggests that, if anything, Icarus should have considered flying higher - in the first 10 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the temperature can decrease from 20 degrees to -60 degrees Celsius. The higher you go, the colder it gets. Therefore, not only could Icarus fly as close to the Sun as he wanted, but he could have flown “too close” in order to prolong his flight.

Perhaps this suggests the old axiom that over-ambition can lead to your downfall should be revised - and that people should instead be encouraged to dream big and aim high.