I'm burning up—how much will my ashes weigh?

Answers to your questions about the news.
July 26 2006 5:15 PM

I'm Burning Up

How much will my ashes weigh?

Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer's free daily podcast on iTunes.

A Houston-based company has announced plans to rocket the ashes of Star Trek's James "Scotty" Doohan into space. Less than 10 grams of Doohan's ashes will be sent into the great beyond—the vessel will include bits of about 100 other people, including former astronaut Gordon Cooper. How much ash is produced when a body is cremated?

About 5 pounds for an adult. The weight can vary from 3 pounds all the way up to 10, depending on the size and density of the deceased's bones. Organ tissue, fat, and fluids burn away during cremation, leaving only bone behind when the incineration's completed.

Advertisement

In general, the taller the person, the more bone or "ash" is left. Men generally produce more ash than women do because their bones are denser. And young people usually have greater bone density than the elderly because of age-related bone loss. Animals work the same way—a fine-boned bird will produce less ash than a dog of similar size.

During cremation, a corpse is burned at around 1,700 degrees for two to four hours—the fleshier the person, the longer it takes to cremate the body. After incineration, the remaining bone fragments are ground up into a substance with the consistency of powder. (The powder might include larger bits of bone that didn't get ground down completely.) The final remnants are known as ashes or cremains.

Bodies are sometimes cremated inside a container, such as a wooden casket used for a viewing. In that case, wood ash and the casket's latches and handles might get mingled with the remains, adding a negligible amount to the final weight of the cremated remains. (The metal pieces are removed before grinding.)

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Dave Kues of Chesapeake Crematory and Bev Heckrotte of Going Home Cremation Service.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.