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The Physics of Poppin' Bottles

Tips for anyone who wants to get the most out of their cork-popping experience
December 31, 2013, 8:05pm
Congrats on your New Year, (safely) go nuts. Photo via

Like millions (billions?) of people around the world today, I will be, for lack of a better term, poppin' bottles tonight. And unlike the safety-conscious people out there, I will be aiming that champagne cork at someone or something.

If you're like me, you learned soon after drinking bubbly that there's only one way to pop a cork: As recklessly as possible (while still avoiding faces and eyes!). It's worth splurging an extra dollar or two on champagne that comes with a cork, instead of settling for some twist-off variety, if only for the danger. But in case mastering sabrage isn't enough to impress someone enough to kiss at midnight (or if you blow it), here's some extra knowledge to add to your NYE game.


The good scientists at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne published a study about the energy unleashed when you pop the cork out of a bottle of champagne, and the results are pretty staggering.

First things first: Most of the energy released by opening a bottle of champagne is spent making the awesome popping noise that gives the activity its name. In fact, just 5 percent of the carbon dioxide is spent propelling the cork at your closest friend or enemy or owl.

And, while champagne tastes best chilled, if you're going strictly for a powerful launch, you're going to want to pop a warm bottle. Champagne at 65 degrees launches a cork at roughly 34 miles per hour, while champagne at 39 degrees launches at just 25 miles an hour. That's a 36 percent increase in power you get, all for the low price of ultimately drinking something that tastes several standard deviations worse. Unfortunately, the researchers didn't look at what happens when you shake up a bottle of champagne like you've just won the World Series.

Gerard Liger-Belair, lead author of the study, says you should never aim a cork at someone's eye (duh), and that "every year, the combination of warm bottles of champagne or sparkling wines with careless cork-removal technique results in serious eye injuries and even permanent vision loss." But he's not a total wet blanket and admits sometimes you've got to throw caution into the wind.

"Even if it is far safer to uncork a bottle of champagne with a subdued sigh, most of us would admit to having popped open a bottle of champagne with a bang," he wrote.

In every bottle of champagne, roughly 5 liters of carbon dioxide are crammed into a standard champagne bottle, resulting in about 10 million tiny bubbles being released when you pop that cork. In fact, the amount of carbon dioxide being released by Americans on New Year's Eve even has a swaggering footprint. Roughly 8 tons of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere tonight from just poppin'. Don't feel all that bad about indulging in champagne on New Year's Eve though—the average passenger vehicle emits 5.1 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Happy poppin', safety and all that jazz, and we'll see you on the other side.