Caught in a Whirl

Vortex rings may look relatively calm, but they are concentrated regions of intensely spinning flow, as this poor jellyfish demonstrates. The rings form when a high-speed fluid gets pushed suddenly (and briefly) into a slower fluid. In the case of this bubble ring, a burst of air is pushed by a diver into relatively still water. The vorticity caused by the two areas of fluid trying to move past one another forms the ring. Like a spinning ice skater who pulls his arms inward, the narrow core of the vortex spins fast due to the conservation of angular momentum. Meanwhile, the bubble ring moves upward due to its buoyancy, pulling nearby water in as it goes. This catches the hapless jellyfish (who relies on vortex rings itself) and gives it quite a spin. But. don’t worry, the photographer confirmed that the jelly was okay after its ride. (Video credit: V. de Valles; via Ashlyn N.)

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