Phenomena

Water Balloon Physics

[original media no longer available]

This video explores some of the physics behind the much-loved bursting water balloon. The first sections show some “canonical” cases–dropping water balloons onto a flat rigid surface.  In some cases the balloon will bounce and in others it breaks. The bursting water balloons develop strong capillary waves (like ripples) across the upper surface and have some shear-induced deformation of the water surface as the rubber peals away. Then the authors placed a water balloon underwater and vibrated it before bursting it with a pin. They note that the breakdown of the interface between the balloon water and surrounding water shows evidence of Rayleigh-Taylor and Richtmyer-Meshkov instabilities. The Rayleigh-Taylor instability is the mushroom-like formation observed when stratified fluids of differing densities mix, while the Richtmyer-Meshkov instability is associated with the impulsive acceleration of fluids of differing density.

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