What you see here is the formation of clouds and rain – but it’s not quite what you’re used to seeing outside. This is an experiment using a mixture of sulfur hexafluoride and helium to create clouds in a laboratory. Everything is contained in a cell between two transparent plates. Liquid sulfur hexafluoride takes up about half of the cell, and when the lower plate is heated, that liquid begins evaporating and rising in the bright regions. When it reaches the cooled top plate, the liquid condenses into droplets inside the dimples on the plate, eventually growing large enough to fall back as rain. The dark wisps you see are areas where cold sulfur hexafluoride is sinking, much like in the water clouds we are used to. Setups like this one allow scientists to study the effects of turbulence on cloud physics and the formation of droplets. (Image credit: E. Bodenschatz et al., source)
Boston-area folks! I’ll be taking part in the Improbable Research show Saturday evening at 8 pm at the Sheraton Boston. Come hear about the Boston Molasses Flood and other bizarre research!