Kelvin Wakes

Ducks, boats, and other objects moving along water create a distinctive V-shaped pattern known as a Kelvin wake. As the boat moves, it creates disturbance waves of many different wavelengths. The constructive interference of the slower waves compresses them into the shock wave that forms either arm of the V. Sometimes evenly spaced wavelets occur along the arms as well. Between the arms are curved waves that result from other excited wave components. The pattern was first derived by Lord Kelvin as universally true at all speeds – at least for an ideal fluid – but practically speaking, water depth and propeller effects can make a difference. Recently, some physicists have even suggested that above a certain point, an object’s speed can affect the wake shape, but this remains contentious. (Image credit: K. Leidorf; via Colossal; submitted by Peter)

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