Numerical Rayleigh-Taylor

If you’ve ever dripped food coloring or ink into a glass of water, you’ve probably created a cascade of tiny vortex rings similar to the images above. This is the Rayleigh-Taylor instability, in which the heavier ink/food coloring falls under gravity into the less dense water. What’s shown above is a special case–one that no experiment can recreate. It’s a numerical simulation of a spherical Rayleigh-Taylor instability. Imagine a sphere of a dense fluid “falling” outward under the influence of a radial gravitational field. This is one of the interesting aspects of computational fluid dynamics–it can simulate situations that are impossible to create experimentally. That can be both a strength and a weakness, allowing researchers to probe otherwise unavailable physics or fooling the unwary into thinking they have captured something real. (Image credit: M. Stock)

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