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. 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.

You might also be interested in:

Science, Evolution, and Creationism

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

Earth's ocean covers more than 70% of our planet's surface. There are five major ocean basins: the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica....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, as well as how close they are to Earth. Stars are giant balls of gas in space...more

What is a Fluid?

When you hear the word Fluid you might think of a liquid like water or juice - something that you can stir up with a spoon. That's right - all liquids are fluids. But did you know that gases like air are...more

The Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect is a scientist's way of saying that small things can make a big difference. As an example, let's pretend a hurricane has just formed in the the Carribean Sea, southeast of Florida....more


When you "blow up" a balloon, you are adding pressure to the inside of the balloon. That makes the rubber in the balloon stretch. The balloon gets bigger. Pressure is an idea scientists use to describe...more

Infrared (IR) Radiation

Text for this level has not been written yet. Please see the "Intermediate" text for this page if you want to learn about this topic. To get to the "Intermediate" text, click on the blue "Intermediate"...more


Magnetism is one of the main forces of nature. Another force of nature is gravity. Magnetism causes magnetized objects to be attracted to each other. An example of the force of magnetism is the magnet...more

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