Swirling flow patterns in a computer simulation of turbulence
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of G. Brethouwer (Royal Inst. Tech., Sweden)
Turbulence: All Mixed Up
If you've ever ridden in an airplane, you might have some idea what turbulence
is. When an airplane flies through a turbulent place in the atmosphere it will
bounce around a bit as the wind outside blows the plane in different directions.
Nothing to worry about - turbulence is natural and it happens all over the
universe, from river rapids to ocean
waves to Jovian planets to stars
to nebulae! You can even see turbulence
when you pour milk into a cup of hot tea.
Turbulence is just a fluid
moving around crazily so it's all mixed up. Turbulent flows are filled with
swirling and spiraling motions. This is especially true if the object itself
is spinning like a planet or star where the
Coriolis effect causes winds and currents to curve and wiggle around. It's
difficult to predict what a turbulent flow is going to do because of something
called the butterfly
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable....more
Earth's ocean covers more than 70% of our planet's surface. There are five major ocean basins. The Pacific Ocean is the largest. It’s so large that it covers a third of the Earth's surface. The Atlantic...more
The pinpoints of light that you see in the night sky are stars. Your ability to see the stars depends on how bright they are (their "absolute magnitude"), as well as how close they are to Earth. Stars...more
A fluid is anything that would spill or float away if it weren't in a container (unless it's big enough to be held together by gravity like a star). If you can stir it up with a spoon or blow it through...more
The butterfly effect refers to how small things can have big consequences. As an example, consider two different computer simulations of the path of a hurricane. Both of them start from some initial state,...more
The mesosphere is a layer of Earth's atmosphere. The mesosphere is above the stratosphere layer. The layer above the mesosphere is called the thermosphere. The mesosphere starts at 50 km (31 miles) above...more
The stratosphere is a layer of Earth's atmosphere. The stratosphere is the second layer, as one moves upward from Earth's surface, of the atmosphere. The stratosphere is above the troposphere and below...more
When you "blow up" a balloon, you are raising the pressure on the inside of the balloon. That makes the rubber in the balloon stretch, and the balloon gets bigger. Pressure is an idea scientists use to...more