Capillary Action in Microgravity

On Earth, gravity dominates over many fluid effects, but in microgravity a different picture emerges. This animation shows a two-channel apparatus partially filled with silicone oil being dropped. While in free-fall, the liquid experiences microgravity conditions and the height of the fluid in the two connected channels changes. The oil meniscus climbs up the walls of the tubes thanks to capillary action. This is the result of intermolecular forces between the liquid and solid walls. Capillary action is most effective in narrow tubes where surface tension and the adhesion between the liquid and solid can actually propel liquid up the walls, as seen here. On Earth we mostly ignore capillary action, except in very small spaces, but for space systems, it is a major force to reckon with in designing flows. (Image credit: NASA Glenn Research Center, source)

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