Vortex Street in the Clouds

Most objects are not particularly aerodynamic or streamlined. When air flows over such bluff bodies, they can shed regular vortices from one side and then the other. This periodic shedding creates a von Karman vortex street, like this one stretching out from Isla Socorro off western Mexico. From the wind’s perspective, the volcanic island forms a blunt disruption to the otherwise smooth ocean. This vortex shedding is seen at smaller scales, as well, in the wind tunnel, in soap films, and in water tunnels. If you’ve ever been outside on a windy day and heard the electrical lines “singing” in the wind, that’s the same phenomena, too. With the right crosswind, radial bicycle spokes will buzz for the same reason as well!  (Photo credit: MODIS/NASA Earth Observatory)

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