If you’ve ever popped open a chilled bottle of champagne, you’ve…

If you’ve ever popped open a chilled bottle of champagne, you’ve probably witnessed the gray-white cloud of mist that forms as the cork flies. Opening the bottle releases a spurt of high-pressure carbon dioxide gas, although that’s not what you see in the cloud. The cloud consists of water droplets from the ambient air, driven to condense by a sudden drop in temperature caused by the expansion of the escaping carbon dioxide. Scientifically speaking, this is known as adiabatic expansion; when a gas expands in volume, it drops in temperature. This is why cans of compressed air feel cold after you’ve released a few bursts of air. 

If your champagne bottle is cold (a) or cool (b), the gray-white water droplet cloud is what you see. But if your champagne is near room temperature ( c ), something very different happens: a blue fog forms inside the bottle and shoots out behind the cork. To understand why, we have to consider what’s going on in the bottle before and after the cork pops. 

A room temperature bottle of champagne is at substantially higher pressure than one that’s chilled. That means that opening the bottle makes the gas inside undergo a bigger drop in pressure, which, in turn, means stronger adiabatic expansion. Counterintuitively, the gas escaping the warm champagne actually gets colder than the gas escaping the chilled champagne because there’s a bigger pressure drop driving it. That whoosh of carbon dioxide is cold enough, in fact, for some of the gas to freeze in that rushed escape. The blue fog is the result of tiny dry ice crystals scattering light inside the bottleneck. 

That flash of blue is only momentary, though, and the extra drop in temperature won’t cool your champagne at all. Liquids retain heat better than gases do. For more, on champagne physics check out these previous posts. (Image and research credit: G. Liger-Belair et al.; submitted by David H.)