Have you ever wondered how those oxygen masks in aeroplanes actually work? You know, the ones that drop down from the overhead compartments when the flight attendants instruct you to secure your own mask before helping others? Well, it turns out there’s some fascinating science behind these life-saving devices, and it’s not what you might expect.

On The Bec Show with Asa, the duo stumbled upon the revelation that aeroplane oxygen masks aren’t connected to a massive oxygen tank. Instead, they operate on a clever mechanism that involves a solid substance called sodium chlorate.

Oxygen generator

As Bec and Asa discovered from Tiktok creator @JoeSpinstheGlobe, the device responsible for providing you with life-sustaining oxygen during a flight is an oxygen generator. This generator can store a significant amount of oxygen in a tiny space, thanks to the use of sodium chlorate in solid form.

When you pull the mask down, a firing pin is triggered, igniting the primer, which reaches temperatures exceeding 600* Celsius. At this extreme heat, sodium chlorate decomposes, turning into primarily oxygen gas and a little bit of table salt. The purified oxygen is then filtered and directed down the tubing to your mask, allowing you to breathe safely during an emergency.

The device is sometimes referred to as an “oxygen candle” because it gradually burns up and eventually runs out of oxygen. This design is intentional, as it ensures there’s enough oxygen available for passengers and the flight crew until the plane can descend to a safe altitude.

@joespinstheglobe if you smell something burning *after* the masks come down, it’s probably this thing. If beforehand… #science #travel #medicine ♬ original sound – JoeSpinsTheGlobe

As Bec pointed out, it might seem a bit concerning to have something that can reach such high temperatures on an aeroplane. However, the safety of these oxygen generators is thoroughly tested and regulated. They are designed to function safely, even in emergency situations.

So, there you have it – the surprising science behind aeroplane oxygen masks. Next time you’re on a plane and the oxygen masks drop down, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the clever engineering that goes into keeping passengers safe at 30,000 feet.

Have a listen to the conversation below: