One of the most commonly observed fluid instabilities is the Rayleigh-Taylor instability, which occurs between fluids of differing densities. It’s most often seen when a denser fluid sits over a lower density fluid. In the video above, this is demonstrated experimentally: a lower density green fluid mixes in with the clear, higher density fluid. This is the classical case in which each initial region of fluid is uniform in density prior to the removal of the barrier. But what happens when each zone has its own variation in density? This is the second case. Before the barrier is removed, each region of the tank has a varying—or stratified—fluid density. In this case, the unmixed fluids are stably stratified, meaning that the fluid density increases with depth. At the barrier interface, the two separate fluids are still unstably stratified—with the denser fluid on top—so when the barrier is removed, the Rayleigh-Taylor instability still drives their mixing. Because of the stable stratification within the original unmixed fluids, the mixing region after the barrier’s removal is more limited. (Video credit: M. D. Wykes and S. B. Dalziel; via PhysicsCentral by APS)
These wave-like Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds can form due to shear between different layers of air in the atmosphere. When one region of air has a higher velocity than the other, their interface forms a shear layer, which can break down in this wavy pattern. In this case, the lower layer of air was moist enough to form condensation and clouds, making the pattern visible to the naked eye. (Photo credit: Gene Hart; via Flow Visualization)
This short film offers an artistic look at the phenomenon of the water bridge. When subjected to a large voltage difference, such as the 30 kV used in the film, flow can be induced between water in two separated beakers. This creates a water bridge seemingly floating on air. There are two main forces opposing the bridge: gravity, which causes it to sag, and capillary action, which tries to thin the bridge to the point where it will break into droplets. These forces are countered by polarization forces induced at the liquid interface due to the electrical field separating the water’s positive and negative charges. This separation of charges creates normal stresses along the water surface, which counteracts the gravitational and capillary forces on the bridge. The artist has done a beautiful job of capturing the unsteadiness and delicacy of the phenomenon. (Video credit: Lariontsev Nick)
We’ve talked about aeroelastic flutter and the demise of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge before, but this explanation from Minute Physics does a nice job of outlining the process simply. As noted in the video, the common explanation of resonance is inaccurate because the wind was constant, so there was no driving frequency for the system. (In contrast, consider vibrating a fluid where the response of the fluid depends on the frequency of the vibrations. This is resonance.) Instead the constant wind supplied energy that fed the natural frequencies of the structure such that an uncontrolled excitation built up. (Video credit: Minute Physics)
Artist Sachiko Kodama is known for her mesmerizing ferrofluid sculptures. Ferrofluids are a colloidal liquid consisting of nanoscale ferromagnetic particles and a carrier fluid such as water or oil. They can react strongly to magnetic fields, forming spikes, brain-like whorls, and even labyrinths. (Photo credits: Sachiko Kodama; via freshphotons)
If you find yourself some place really cold this holiday season, may I suggest stepping outside and having some fun freezing soap bubbles? The crystal growth is quite lovely, as seen in this photograph. If you live in warmer climes, fear not, you can always experiment in your freezer. It would be particularly fun, I think, to see how a half-bubble sitting on a cold plate freezes in comparison to a droplet like this one. (Video credit: Mount Washington Observatory)
For the right flow speeds and incidence angles, a jet of Newtonian fluid can bounce off the surface of a bath of the same fluid. This is shown in the photo above with a laser incorporated in the jet to show its integrity throughout the bounce. The walls of the jet direct the laser much the way an optical fiber does. The jet stays separated from the bath by a thin layer of air, which is constantly replenished by the air being entrained by the flowing jet. The rebound is a result of the surface tension of the bath providing force for the bounce. (Photo credit: T. Lockhart et al.)
Nothing quite compares to the beauty of fluid dynamics on astronomical scales. What you see here are raw photographs of recent storms at Saturn’s north pole. The recent change in Saturnian seasons has afforded Cassini a sunlit view of the northern pole, which had previously lain in darkness. A roiling vortex filled with clouds being twisted and sheared was revealed near the center of its famed polar hexagon. (Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute; submitted by J. Shoer)
Physics students are often taught to ignore the effects of air on a projectile, but such effects are not always negligible. This video features several great examples of the Magnus effect, which occurs when a spinning object moves through a fluid. The Magnus force acts perpendicular to the spin axis and is generated by pressure imbalances in the fluid near the object’s surface. On one side of the spinning object, fluid is dragged with the spin, staying attached to the object for longer than if it weren’t spinning. On the other side, however, the fluid is quickly stopped by the spin acting in the direction opposite to the fluid motion. The pressure will be higher on the side where the fluid stagnates and lower on the side where the flow stays attached, thereby generating a force acting from high-to-low, just like with lift on an airfoil. Sports players use this effect all the time: pitchers throw curveballs, volleyball and tennis players use topspin to drive a ball downward past the net, and golfers use backspin to keep a golf ball flying farther. (Video credit: Veritasium)
This stunning National Geographic photo contest winner shows an F-15 banking at an airshow and a array of great fluid dynamics. A vapor cloud has formed over the wings of the plane due to the acceleration of air over the top of the plane. The acceleration has dropped the local pressure enough that the moisture of the air condenses. Some of this condensation has been caught by the wingtip vortices, highlighting those as well. Finally, the twin exhausts have a wake full of shock diamonds, formed by a series of shock waves and expansion fans that adjust the exhaust’s pressure to match that of the ambient atmosphere. (Photo credit: Darryl Skinner/National Geographic; via In Focus; submitted by jshoer)
Any finite length wing produces wingtip vortices—potentially intense regions of rotational flow downstream of the wing’s ends. These vortices are associated both with the production of lift on the wing and with unavoidable induced drag. The tabletop demonstration above shows the region of the vortices’ influence and how strong the rotation is there. Note also that the two vortices have opposite rotational senses—the left side induces a clockwise rotation, whereas the right side induces an anti-clockwise rotation. The larger an aircraft, the stronger and longer lasting its vortices; this can be a source of danger for smaller aircraft passing through the wake. If a pilot crosses one wingtip vortex and overreacts to compensate, crossing the second counter-rotating vortex can cause even greater damage.
The high-speed video above shows an atomized spray of flammable liquid being ignited using a lighter. It was filmed at 10,000 fps and is replayed at 30 fps. Although uncontained, this demonstration is similar to the combustion observed inside of many types of engines. Automobiles, jet engines, and rockets all break their liquid fuel into a spray of droplets to increase the efficiency of combustion. The turbulence of the flames dances and swirls, with small-scale motions close to the sprayed droplets and larger-scale motions around the vaporized fuel. This variation in size of the scales of motion is a hallmark feature of turbulence and can be used to characterize a flow.
The photos above show cross-sections through the leading edge vortices on a highly swept delta wing at angle of attack. Flow in the photos is from the upper left to lower right. Notice how the vortices grow and develop waviness as they move downstream. When perturbations enter the vortex—for example, due to the shear between the vortex fluid and the freestream—some will grow and eventually cause a break down to turbulence, as in the lower picture. (Photo credits: R. Nelson and A. Pelletier)
The volcanoes of the South Sandwich Islands, located in the South Atlantic, have a notable effect on cloud formation in this satellite photo. Visokoi Island, on the right, sheds a wake of large vortices that distort the cloud layer above it. On the left, Zavodovski Island’s volcano does the same, with the added effect of low-level volcanic emissions, which include aerosols. These tiny particles provide a nucleus around which water droplets form, causing an marked increase in cloud formation visible in the bright tail streaming off the island. (Photo credit: NASA, via Earth Observatory)
What does traffic have to do with fluid dynamics? Rather a lot, actually! Many parallels exist between traffic and compressible fluid flow. One such example, the concept of a shockwave, is demonstrated in the video above. As the traffic jam develops, the cars experience sudden changes in their velocity and relative distance (in a fluid, this would be density). This change travels backward through the traffic in the form of a shockwave, just the same as discontinuous changes in a fluid.
Road construction provides another common example of compressible-flow-like behavior in cars. For an incompressible fluid like water, reducing the area of a pipe would increase the velocity, but just the opposite happens when a road is reduced from two lanes to one. Traffic slows down and clumps together. When the road opens back up from one lane to two, suddenly the speed and the distance between cars increases. This is exactly what happens in a rocket nozzle—it’s the expanding bell-like shape that causes air to accelerate supersonically. (Video credit: New Scientist)