Colliding in Microgravity

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On Earth, it’s easy for the effects of surface tension and capillary action to get masked by gravity’s effects. This makes microgravity experiments, like those performed with drop towers or onboard the ISS, excellent proving grounds for exploring fluid dynamics unhindered by gravity. The video above looks at how colliding jets of liquid water behave in microgravity. At low flow rates, opposed jets form droplets that bounce off one another. Increasing the flow rate first causes the droplets to coalesce and then makes the jets themselves coalesce. Similar effects are seen in obliquely positioned jets. Perhaps the most interesting clip, though, is at the end. It shows two jets separated by a very small angle. Under Earth gravity, the jets bounce off one another before breaking up. (The jets are likely separated by a thin film of air that gets entrained along the water surface.) In microgravity, though, the jets display much greater waviness and break down much quicker. This seems to indicate a significant gravitational effect to the Plateau-Rayleigh instability that governs the jet’s breakup into droplets. (Video credit: F. Sunol and R. Gonzalez-Cinca)

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