Holiday Fluids: Cocoa Convection

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If you make a proper cup of hot chocolate this holiday, watch carefully and you just may catch some Rayleigh-Benard convection like the video above. (Note, video playback is 3x.) The canonical Rayleigh-Benard problem is one in which fluid is heated from below and cooled from above. For the cup of hot chocolate, the cooling comes from the colder, ambient air at the cocoa’s surface. Because cooler fluid is denser than warmer fluid, the cocoa near the surface will tend to sink down, allowing warmer cocoa to rise. As that warm cocoa reaches the surface, it too will cool and sink back down, continuing the cycle. The effect relies on buoyancy and, by extension, gravity; on the International Space Station, for example, astronauts would not observe such convection. The distinctive shape of the cells depends on the boundaries of the cup. This post is part of our weeklong holiday-themed fluid dynamics series. (Video credit: Armuotas)

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