Microgravity Water Balloons

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When a water balloon pops in microgravity, waves propagate from the initial point of contact and the final point of contact (where the balloon skin peels away).  As these waves come inward toward one another, the water is compressed from its original potato-like shape into a pancake-like one. In most cases, surface tension will provide a damping force on this oscillatory motion, eventually making the water into a sphere. On Earth, in contrast, a water balloon seems to hold its shape after popping.  This is because the effect of gravity on the water is much larger than the effect of the propagating waves. This is one reason that it is useful to have a laboratory in space! Without a microgravity environment, it is much harder to study and observe secondary and tertiary-order forces on a physical event. (Video credit: Don Pettit, Science Off The Sphere)

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