The quantitative study of how fluids (gases and liquids) move.

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What really allows airplanes to fly?

What aerodynamic effects actually contribute to producing the lift on an airplane? I know there's a common belief that lift comes from the Bernoulli effect, where air moving over the wings is at ...
90
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8answers
22k views

Why does a helium filled ballon move forward in a car when the car is accelerating?

I noticed that when I had a helium filled, latex ballon inside of my car, it moved forward in the cabin as I accelerated forward. The faster I accelerated forward, the faster the ballon went from the ...
65
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8answers
46k views

Why does the atmosphere rotate along with the earth?

I was reading somewhere about a really cheap way of travelling: using balloons to get ourselves away from the surface of the earth. The idea held that because the earth rotates, we should be ...
51
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12answers
15k views

How long a straw could Superman use?

To suck water through a straw, you create a partial vacuum in your lungs. Water rises through the straw until the pressure in the straw at the water level equals atmospheric pressure. This ...
49
votes
11answers
14k views

Why does dust stick to rotating fan propeller?

Why does dust stick to rotating fan propeller? Intuitively, most people (including I) think of the dust will not stick to rotating fan propellers. EDIT 1: Thank you for the great explanations. I am ...
47
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2answers
886 views

Analog Hawking radiation

I am confused by most discussions of analog Hawking radiation in fluids (see, for example, the recent experimental result of Weinfurtner et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 021302 (2011), ...
43
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5answers
15k views

How effective is speeding?

At a simple level, speeding in a car attempts to minimize the time required to travel a distance by utilizing the basic relationship: $$d=st$$ So for a given distance, time should be inversely ...
43
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8answers
4k views

Explaining to a five year old - why don't bubbles run like water

My five-year old daughter was asking about astronauts the other day and why they float in space. After me showing her a few bits on the kids section on the NASA web site I started explaining about the ...
39
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4answers
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What is the minimum pressure of a medium for which a sound wave can exist?

At what pressure will be particles in a medium be unable to form a sound wave when disturbed? How can this pressure be described mathematically? My guess is that this would correspond to the point at ...
39
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7answers
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How can two seas not mix?

How can two seas not mix? I think this is commonly known and the explanation everyone gives is "because they have different densities". What I get is that they eventually will mix, but this process ...
39
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4answers
25k views

What causes ballpoint pens to write intermittently?

After a while, a ball point pen doesn't write very well anymore. It will write for a little distance, then leave a gap, then maybe write in little streaks, then maybe write properly again. It seems ...
38
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2answers
3k views

Wind generators - why so few blades?

Why commercial wind generators usually have just 2-3 blades? Having more blades would allow to increase power OR decrease diameter. Decreased diameter would also reduce stress due to different wind ...
38
votes
12answers
3k views

Mechanics around a rail tank wagon

Some time ago I came across a problem which might be of interest to the physics.se, I think. The problem sounds like a homework problem, but I think it is not trivial (i am still thinking about it): ...
35
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3answers
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What is the fallacy in this infinite motion machine?

I realize this isn't possible, but I can't see why not, especially if you change the model a little bit so that the balls simply travel through a tube of water on the way up, rather than exactly ...
35
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3answers
5k views

What is going on in front of and behind a fan?

Why is it that when you drop paper behind a fan, it drops, and is not blown/sucked into the fan, whereas if you drop paper in front of a fan, it is blown away?
34
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2answers
10k views

Before a once-warm lake starts to freeze, must its temperature be 4°C throughout at some point?

This is a problem I just started puzzling over, and I felt this would be a good forum to check my reasoning. So here are the relevant observations followed by my question: Water achieves its maximum ...
33
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4answers
2k views

How much information about the scale of a waterfall can be obtained from its sound?

Is it possible to constrain the height, volume flow, or distance of a waterfall from the quantitative analysis of a high-quality recording of its sound? As an aside, the simulated sounds of fluid ...
32
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2answers
4k views

Pouring oil on choppy water to calm it , does it work and if so how?

Near where I live, local fishermen often bring cans of castor oil with them, to calm the water around their boats, if they feel bad weather is due. They claim this method of sea calming works, ...
31
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3answers
7k views

When water climbs up a piece of paper, where is the energy coming from?

Take a glass of water and piece of toilet paper. If you keep the paper vertical, and touch the surface of the water with the tip of the paper, you can see the water being absorbed and climbing up the ...
31
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3answers
3k views

Floating a ping pong ball in the air just using a pen!

Caution: Apparently this problem is harder than it seems! There is a well known phenomena, which I first learnt about when I was a 10 years old kid. You can levitate a ping pong(or whatever ...
30
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2answers
1k views

What forces are at work causing sand to migrate to the centre of a spinning bucket of water? [duplicate]

A bucket is filled with water and a handful of sand. The water is then spun. Why and what forces are in play which cause the sand particles to congregate in the centre of the bucket?
29
votes
3answers
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Is this really a golden ratio spiral?

In this blog post, I found this picture: There are other similar photos: and Does the water really form golden ratio spiral in such cases? Or is the photo just a provocative example, without ...
29
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3answers
1k views

Why do particles in the molten wax near a burning candle wick get pushed away?

Have a look at this clip I made of my candle burning: I can accept that the molten wax gets sucked into the wick (though not quite sure why: capilary action?). But why does it also seem to get ...
27
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5answers
4k views

Have we figured out how to analyze turbulent fluids?

I was surprised to read that we don't know how to analyze turbulent fluids. On page 3-9 of The Feynman Lectures on Physics (Volume One), Feynman writes: Finally, there is a physical problem that ...
27
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5answers
4k views

What does air “feel” like to a flying mosquito in terms of viscosity?

If I go for a walk at, say 4 km/hour, unless there is a breeze blowing, I probably won't notice the air around me at all. If I go for a swim though, I will immediately notice the viscosity of the ...
26
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3answers
4k views

Emptying a bottle faster by swirl

A moment ago, I was emptying bottles filled with water (2 liters) that are on the terrace of my house. As I did so I remembered something I saw on TV a some time ago (I don't remember when or where or ...
26
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6answers
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How can fast moving particles gain energy from slow moving ones?

Imagine a large diameter piston filled with water connected to a small funnel. When you press on the piston slowly but with considerable force the water will move very quickly from the funnel in form ...
26
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3answers
4k views

Why can't the Navier Stokes equations be derived from first principle physics?

At the 109th UCLA Faculty Research lecture, Seth Putterman gave a talk on Sonoluminescence. During the lecture he emphasized that "The Navier Stokes equations cannot be derived from first principles ...
26
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7answers
23k views

Why do tsunami waves begin with the water flowing away from shore?

A sign of a tsunami is that the water rushes away from the shore, then comes back to higher levels. It seems that waves should be both + and - polarized and that some tsunamis should go in the ...
26
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3answers
5k views

What nonlinear deformations will a fast rotating planet exhibit?

It is common knowledge among the educated that the Earth is not exactly spherical, and some of this comes from tidal forces and inhomogeneities but some of it comes from the rotation of the planet ...
24
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2answers
2k views

When a drop of water falls into water, where do the splashes come from?

When a drop of water falls into a reservoir of water from a high enough altitude, water droplets will splash (image credit): My question: Does the water in those droplets come from the original ...
23
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2answers
2k views

Why does a nuclear explosion have directionality?

It just occurred to me that almost all images I've seen of the (in)famous mushroom cloud show a vertical column rising perpendicular to the ground and a horizontal planar ring parallel to the ground. ...
22
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1answer
1k views

How can the Moon have such a strong effect on the ocean?

The gravitational acceleration on Earth is approximately $ 10 \mathrm{m}/\mathrm{s}^2 $. Compared to this, the tidal effect of the Moon's gravity gives a local variation in the acceleration of ...
21
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3answers
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Why does the sound pitch increase on every consecutive tick at the bottom of a filled cup of coffee?

Since I don't know the proper physical terms for this, I describe it in everyday English. The following has kept me wondering for quite some time and so far I haven't found a reasonable explanation. ...
21
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1answer
2k views

Minimum viscosity of liquids

In a lecture by Purcell he mentions that he notices that there aren't any liquids with viscosities much less than that of water, even though they go up seemingly unbounded. In an endnote (endnote 1 in ...
20
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3answers
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Why does water pouring from a glass sometimes travel down the side of the glass?

If you have a glass of water, say, three quarters full and you pour it at an angle of say, $45^{\circ}$ with respect to the the table, the water comes out of the glass and goes directly down towards ...
20
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4answers
9k views

What is the mystery of turbulence?

One of the great unsolved problems in physics is turbulence but I'm not too clear what the mystery is. Does it mean that the Navier-Stokes equations don't have any turbulent phenomena even if we solve ...
20
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4answers
918 views

Why does the fundamental mode of a recorder disappear when you blow harder?

I have a simple recorder, like this: When I cover all the holes and blow gently, it blows at about 550 Hz, but when I blow more forcefully, it jumps an octave and blows 1100 Hz. What's the ...
19
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2answers
3k views

Why would the lack of air in a mine in an asteroid prevent you from flooding it?

In Isaac Asimov's I, Robot novel, two scientists stationed in an asteroid where mining activities are performed say "We could flood the mines, if this weren't an airless asteroid" when considering ...
19
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1answer
601 views

Flames with no gravity?

I was watching "Solaris" (Tarkovsky) today, and noticed this: in some moment the space station changed orbit and the people inside experienced zero-gravity. At that moment, a candlestick passed ...
19
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2answers
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What exactly is the difference between advection and convection?

After reading Wikipedia articles on advection and convection, I still cannot determine whether there is a consensus on a difference between these two terms. Sometimes, the term convection seems to ...
19
votes
2answers
6k views

How does a sponge “suck” up water against gravity?

If I take a sponge and place it in a shallow dish of water (i.e. water level is lower than height of sponge), it absorbs water until the sponge is wet, including a portion of the sponge above the ...
19
votes
1answer
352 views

What are the equations of motion of a hole in a soap bubble?

Imagine the following situation: I have a thin stationary water film, like a soap bubble, suspended inside a large ring. I throw a small loop of string onto the film and punch a hole inside it. How ...
18
votes
12answers
2k views

Why do turbine engines work?

I know roughly how a turbine engine (let's say a gas turbine producing no jet thrust) is supposed to work: The compressor forces fresh air into a combustion chamber, where it reacts with fuel to ...
18
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3answers
846 views

Why do nuclear bombs make a mushroom?

Atomic bombs make mushroom. It's well-known and we've seen many images of atomic experiments around the world. My question is, what causes the mushroom shape? Do conventional explosives like TNT and ...
18
votes
2answers
971 views

How deep is the Great Red Spot?

The Great Red Spot (GRS) is a very persistent storm system that's easily visible through a telescope on the surface of Jupiter. But what is the three-dimensional structure of the GRS, and how deep ...
18
votes
3answers
936 views

How to show that the Coriolis effect is irrelevant for the whirl/vortex in the sink/bathtub?

There is a common myth that water flowing out from a sink should rotate in direction governed by on which hemisphere we are; this is shown false in many household experiments, but how to show it ...
17
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6answers
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Physics of how the cochlea isolates frequencies along its length?

Can anyone explain the separation of frequencies along the basilar membrane of the cochlea please? (equations would be nice) I understand it being related to the resistance caused by fluid in the ...
17
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2answers
495 views

Stripeless cleaning of windows

Cross post: http://chemistry.stackexchange.com/q/4377/22 Last week I was discussing with a friend how we thought the stripeless cleaning of windows is achieved when using a cleaner like Windex ...
17
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2answers
291 views

Branching lemon drop “smoke rings”

This might be hard to ask, but here goes nothing. I recently poured a cup of water into a black coffee cup. There was a light source--not very bright--above the cup. Anyways, I was squeezing a ...