Spiral formations are common in nature, from galaxies to chemical reactions. But most examples in nature rotate such that their arms trail the direction of rotation. Viewed side-on, this makes the arms appear to spiral outward from the the center. The opposite – an antispiral, where the arms appear to be drawn in toward the center – also exists, but there are far fewer examples. Which is why it’s notable that physicists have described a new one, seen above.
You’re watching silicone oil draining through a plate with an array of holes in it. There’s a reservoir of oil on top supplying a constant flow rate. The patterns that form in this system vary widely – they can form between one and six arms – but the results are always antispirals. The driving mechanism seems to be the periodic nature of the discharge from individual holes, which is caused by a Rayleigh-Taylor instability. Hopefully systems like this can shed some light on why spirals are often preferred over antispirals. (Image and research credit: H. Yoshikawa et al.; via APS Physics)