The Moment A Bullet Turns Into A Flashlight, Caught On Film

[The Slo Mo Guys] caught something fascinating while filming some firearms at 82,000 frames per second: a visible emission of light immediately preceding a bullet impact. The moment it occurs is pictured above, but if you’d like to jump directly to the point in the video where this occurs, it all starts at [8:18].

The ability to capture ultra-slow motion allows us to see things that would otherwise happen far too quickly to perceive, and there are quite a few visual spectacles in the whole video. We’ll talk a bit about what is involved, and what could be happening.

Spotting something unusual on video replay is what exteme slo-mo filming is all about.

First of all, the clear blocks being shot are ballistic gel. These dense blocks are tough, elastic, and a common sight in firearms testing because they reliably and consistently measure things like bullet deformation, fragmentation, and impact. It’s possible to make homemade ballistic gel with sufficient quantities of gelatin and water, but the clear ones like you see here are oil-based, visually clear, and more stable (they do not shrink due to evaporation).

We’ve seen the diesel effect occur in ballistic gelatin, which is most likely the result of the bullet impact vaporizing small amounts of the (oil-based) gel when the channel forms, and that vaporized material ignites due to a sudden increase in pressure as it contracts.

In the video linked above (and embedded below), there is probably a bit more in the mix. The rifles being tested are large-bore rifles, firing big cartridges with a large amount of gunpowder igniting behind each bullet. The burning powder causes a rapid expansion of hot, pressurized gasses that push the bullet down the barrel at tremendous speed. As the bullet exits, so does a jet of hot gasses. Sometimes, the last bits of burning powder are visible as a brief muzzle flash that accompanies the bullet leaving the barrel.

A large projectile traveling at supersonic velocities results in a large channel and expansion when it hits ballistic gel, but when fired at close range there are hot gasses from the muzzle and any remaining burning gunpowder in the mix, as well. All of which help generate the kind of visual spectacles we see here.

We suspect that the single frame of a flashlight-like emission of light as the flat-nosed bullet strikes the face of the gel is also the result of the diesel effect, but it’s an absolutely remarkable visual and a fascinating thing to capture on film. You can watch the whole thing just below the page break.

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Watch The Diesel Effect In Ballistic Gelatin

A striking video appears to demonstrate an explosion via the diesel effect in clear ballistic gel. The diesel effect or “dieseling” refers to when a substance ignites from the effects of pressure, and it’s the operating principle behind the gadgets known as Fire Sticks or Fire Pistons.

diesel-effect-ballistics-gelBallistic gel is a broad term referring to a large chunk of dense gel generally used in firearms-related testing to reliably and consistently measure things like bullet deformation, fragmentation, and impact. It’s tough, elastic, and in many ways resembles a gigantic gummi bear. Fans of Mythbusters (or certain DIY railguns) will recognize the stuff. Water-based blocks made with natural gelatin can be easily made at home, but end up with a yellow-brown color and have a limited shelf life due to evaporation. Clear blocks exist that are oil-based and don’t dry out like the water-based ones. It’s one of these that is in the embedded animation below.

Slow motion video capture is a natural companion to just about anything that you’d need ballistic gel for, and good thing — because the video captured what appears to be a diesel effect! The block is hit with a bullet, and as the bullet rapidly expands and dumps its energy into the gel, a cavity expands rapidly. During this process, some of the (oil-based) material in the cavity has been vaporized. After the expanded bullet exits (to the right of the gif above but easier to see in the video below), the cavity in the block begins to collapse. The resulting pressure increase appears to ignite the vaporized material, which explodes with a flash followed by some exhaust.

This effect has been observed in ballistic gel before, but this video shows a particularly clear ignition, followed by a secondary expansion of the cavity, then a flatulent-ish ejection of exhaust as the cavity collapses. If nothing else, it’s a very striking effect clearly captured on film. Slow-motion capture of destructive forces makes visible many things that would otherwise happen too quickly to perceive.

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