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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 effect.

Last modified November 16, 2005 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA