Leapfrogging Vortices

Two vortex rings travelling along the same line can repeatedly leapfrog one another. During my recent visit to the University of Chicago, PhD student Robert Morton of the Irvine Lab demonstrated this leapfrogging in the same apparatus they use to study knotted vortices. Leapfrogging works because of the mutual interaction of the flow fields of the two vortex rings. Their influence on one another causes the front vortex ring to slow down and widen while the trailing vortex narrows and speeds up. Once the vortices have switched places, the process repeats. In a real fluid, viscosity eventually breaks things down and causes the vortex rings to merge, but in simulation, inviscid vortex rings can leapfrog indefinitely. Our friend Physics Girl even showed that half-vortex-rings can leapfrog. (Image credit: N. Sharp; thanks to R. Morton for the demo)

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