Buffon's burning mirrors, circa 1740

Buffon's burning mirrors, circa 1740

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Credit: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Buffon's burning mirrors. Coloured historical artwork of an experiment carried out by the French naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788). Buffon (wearing a hat at upper left) had read of the defence of Syracuse, by the Greek scientist Archimedes (287-212 BC). Archimedes had supposedly used mirrors and the Sun's rays to set fire to the attacking Roman fleet. Buffon used 168 mirrors, each measuring 15 centimetres (cm) by 20 cm, to successfully ignite wooden logs at a range of 50 metres. He concluded that Archimedes could have defended Syracuse using a similar system. Buffon carried out this experiment circa 1740.

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