Research

Vortex Collisions Leave Clues to Turbulence

Two vortex rings collide head-on.

Vortex ring collisions have long been admired for their beauty, but they’re now shedding light on the fundamental interactions that lead to turbulence. By dying just the cores of colliding vortex rings (Image 2), researchers observed anti-symmetric perturbations that develop along each core as they interact. These are indicative of what’s known as the elliptical instability.

But the breakdown doesn’t stop there. Instead, as the elliptical instability develops, it generates a set of secondary vortex filaments that wrap around the original cores (Image 3). Just like the original vortex cores, those counter-rotating secondary filaments interact with one another, develop their own elliptical instability, and generate a set of smaller, tertiary filaments (Image 4).

What’s exciting is that this process gives us a physical mechanism for the turbulent energy cascade. Researchers have talked for decades about energy passing from large-scale eddies to smaller and smaller ones, but this work lets us actually observe that cascade in the form of smaller and smaller pairs of vortex filaments interacting. To see more, check out some of our previous posts on this work. (Image and research credit: R. McKeown et al.; via Cosmos; submitted by Ryan M. and Kam-Yung Soh)

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