The Mystery Light Bulb Has Been On For 113 Years

By Anupum Pant

There are a handful of different reasons that may make an incandescent bulb blow out. Improper sealing, rough handling and electrical surge are some of them which may blow out a bulb prematurely. Still, bulbs are not for ever.

Very gradually, due to the extremely high heat of resistance, the very thin tungsten filament would evaporate making it thinner and thinner with time. Ultimately, the filament will certainly reach a point beyond which it can’t last. At a certain place in the filament where a slightly greater number of atoms get evaporated into the inert atmosphere of the bulb, the filament breaks. As a result the bulb pops and you need to replace it.

Even if everything goes right, your average incandescent bulb won’t usually last for more than a couple of years. Certainly not for 113 years! But one bulb did and it still glows. No one knows or understands why exactly it has lasted for so long. Whatever it is, it is nothing less than a miracle.

Installed in the year 1901, the incredibly old bulb (not tungsten filament, this one is a carbon filament bulb) still glows at a fire station in Livermore, California. All it’s life it’s seen ups and downs, was moved from one place to another (mostly fire stations), was protected from electrical surges and what not. With a few hours of brief outages here and there it has clocked over one million hours of burn time. And it still glows. In fact it holds the world record for being the longest burning light bulb. You can watch it here on the live cam.

[Centennial bulb live cam] Fun fact: The bulb has outlasted 3 of these webcams which keep broadcasting its live status.

Last year, it went off for a couple of hours and created waves all over the media. Later, it was reported that the bulb was back again. It was probably “just taking a nap“.

There are a couple of explanations (theories) on what may have made the bulb last so long. A few of them being –

  • It hasn’t been switched on and off many times. Lesser cycles, longer life.
  • It is a 60 watt bulb turned on to about 4 watts, which probably prevents it from going too hot.
  • Since a lot of extra care and money was spent on making this bulb, it was not one of those mass manufactured bulbs. It has probably been sealed perfectly. So, there’s no chance of air leaking into the bulb.

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