Microgravity Water Films

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In this video astronaut Don Pettit demonstrates some interesting laminar flow effects using a water film in microgravity. By using a film, fluid motion is essentially confined to two dimensions. This is important because it prohibits the development of turbulence, which is a purely three-dimensional phenomenon. Doing the experiment in microgravity allows Pettit to leave the experiment for a long period of time without buoyant effects or similar disturbances. When he first stirs the film, the tracer particles show some signs of what looks like turbulent mixing, but soon the film rotates uniformly with streaks of gray caused by different concentrations of tracer particles. Pettit notes that he allowed the film to rotate overnight and it eventually all turned milky white. This is the effect of molecular diffusion of the tracer particles; without turbulence, the only way for mixing to occur is through the random motion of molecules. See more of Pettit’s Saturday Morning Science videos for additional microgravity fluid mechanics.

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