Testing Granular Gas Theory

A granular gas in microgravity. After t=0, the gas is cooling.

When excited, a group of particles can behave much like a gas. These granular gases exhibit many similarities to molecular gases but contain one vital difference: without a constant input of energy, granular gases lose kinetic energy to collisions.

Over the years, scientists have developed a special theory to describe the behaviors of granular gases, but most of its predictions could only be tested numerically. A new study used a microgravity experiment aboard a sounding rocket to physically test the theory.

The experiment, shown above, consists of nearly 2800 magnetic particles, which the researchers could stir up using pairs of magnets. Once they shut off the magnets (which occurs at t=0 in the image above), the granular gas begins to “cool” as collisions sap away its energy. With this set-up, the researchers were able to confirm several key predictions of the granular gas theory. (Image and research credit: P. Yu et al.; via APS Physics)

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