The Supersonic Plonk

Everyone knows the familiar plonk of a stone falling into a pond but few realize the complexity of the physics.  When a solid object falls into a pool, a sheet of liquid, the crown splash, is sent upward.  Simultaneously, the object pulls a cavity of air down with it. As the water moves inward, this cavity is pinched, creating an hourglass-like shape reminiscent of the shape of a rocket’s nozzle. As the diameter of that pinched cavity shrinks, the velocity of the upward escaping air increases, resulting in the formation of an air jet moving faster than the speed of sound. This air jet is followed by a slower liquid jet that may rebound to a height higher than then original height of the dropped object. So next time you throw a stone into a pond, enjoy the knowledge that you’ve broken the sound barrier. (Photo credit: D. van der Meer; see also Physics World)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.