The dynamics inside a shaken granular material, like sand, are fascinatingly complex. In this study, researchers used x-ray radiograms to peer inside a horizontally-shaken container of sand. They found that the sand soon formed bands of lower density (seen as yellow in the radiogram) near the center of the container. Because these bands show a lot of horizontal movement between grains, they’re known as shear bands.
The shear bands don’t simply stay still, though. One remains more or less stationary at the center, but others split and rise through the upper half of the container. The researchers suggest this migration happens due to gravity; because the shear band is less dense than the material above, it cannot support the weight. Sand sinks into the void, making the less dense region effectively migrate upward. They also suggest that these moving shear bands are responsible for the fluctuations in sand height seen at the surface. (Image credit: beach – RAMillu, radiogram – J. Kollmer et al.; research credit: J. Kollmer et al.)