Placing a mixture of alcohol and water atop a pool of oil creates a stunning effect that pulls droplets apart. The action is driven by the Marangoni effect, where variations in surface tension (caused in this case by the relative evaporation rates of alcohol and water) create flow. David Naylor captures some great stills of the flow, including the only example of a double burst I’ve seen so far. For more on the science behind the effect, check out this previous post or the original research paper. (Image credit: D. Naylor; see also this previous post)
Lens-shaped lenticular clouds are not terribly rare in mountainous areas, but observers at Mount Washington caught a very unusual cloud near sunrise in late February. This lenticular cloud had an added curl on top thanks to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability!
Lenticular clouds form when air is forced to flow up over a mountain in such a way that its temperature and pressure drop and water vapor in the air condenses. The resulting water droplets form a cloud that appears stationary over the mountain, even though the air continues to flow.
To get that added wave-like curl, there needs to be another, faster-moving layer of air just above the cloud. As that air flows past, it shears the cloud layer, causing the interface to curl. Neither of these cloud types is long-lived — Kelvin-Helmholtz formations often last only a few minutes — so catching such a great dual example is lucky, indeed! (Image credit: Mount Washington Observatory; via Smithsonian Magazine; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)
The Glen Canyon Dam lies on the Colorado River, upstream of the Grand Canyon. Because the dam blocks sediment from upstream, the region’s only sediment sources are two tributary rivers downstream of the dam. Periodically, the Bureau of Reclamation releases high flows from the dam in order to mimic the seasonal floods that existed on the river before the dam was built. These surge flows pick up hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sediment from the tributary rivers and push it downstream, creating and renewing sand bars and beaches along the Colorado. (Video and image credits: Bureau of Reclamation, 1, 2)
When looking at Mars and other parts of our solar system, planetary scientists are faced with a critical question: if what I’m looking at is similar to something on Earth, did it form the same way it does here? In other words, if something on Mars looks like a terrestrial lava flow, is it actually made of igneous rock or something else?
To tackle this question, a team of researchers explored mud flows in a pressure chamber under both Earth-like and Martian conditions. They found that mud flowed quite freely on Earth, but with Martian temperatures and pressures, the flows resembled lava flows like those found in Hawaii or the Galapagos Islands.
On Mars, mud begins boiling once it reaches the low pressure of the surface. This boiling cools it, causing the outer layer of the mud to freeze into an increasingly viscous crust, which changes how the mud flows. In this regard, it’s very similar to cooling lava, even though the heat loss mechanisms are different. (Video and research credit: P. Brož et al.; image credit: N. Sharp; see also P. Brož; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)