Saturday Science: Vortex

Even if you have never heard of a vortex, chances are that you have seen one. In fact, each time you let the water out of your bathtub, you can see a vortex.

Saturday Science: Vortex

Vortices are all around us here on Earth and even in outer space. In this Saturday science (see also: Saturday Science: Sea Monkeys)guide, we take a closer look at what a vortex is and where you can find it.

What Is A Vortex?

A vortex is the name for any natural phenomenon where you can find a turbulent, spinning flow of fluid. The fluid looks like it is rapidly swirling around a center.

The speed of the rotating fluid is higher at the center and it gets smaller with greater distance from the center. The plural of a vortex is vortices, so you would describe more than one vortex with vortices.

Scientists also often talk about vorticity. This is the scientific term for the swirling motion of a vortex which you can find in fluids but also in gases, such as in smoke rings, tornadoes, dust devils or r tropical cyclones.

How Does A Vortex Work?

A vortex is a classic physics phenomenon that happens when a liquid or a gas moves in circles. In the middle of a vortex, you can find a vortex line that swirls around.

Vortices form when there are different conditions, such as pressure variations, surrounding this line. Good examples of this are tornadoes and hurricanes. You can also see velocity in air moving over a plane.

As fluids or gas are drawn into the vortex center, they slowly spiral. With the varying air masses, the vortex starts to spin.

Types Of Vortex

Vortices occur everywhere in nature but there are a number of different types of vortices.

A Rigid Body Vortex

A rigid-body vortex involves two solid objects that swirl inside the vortex at the same speed. This means they usually stay close to each other and the center of the vortex. Rigid-body vortices are also known as rotational vortices.

An Irrotational Vortex

Objects in an irritation vortex usually move around the vortex at different speeds. The objects in both irrotational and rigid body vortices can rotate around their own axis.

Examples Of Vortices

You can find vortices anywhere around you, from a tiny vortex when you pull a plug to a massive vortex out in space. Here are some of the best vortex examples on the planet – and beyond!

A Plughole Vortex

Each time you remove the plug from the sink or the bathtub, you create a small vortex as the water flows down the drain.

With just a little bit of water, you may not see the vortex but with more water, you can see the swirling motion of the vortex from the top.

Drinks Vortex

When you stir your tea, hot chocolate or any other drink with a spoon fast enough, then a vortex will appear.

Aircraft Vortex

Aircraft and planes can create a lot of vortices. For example, vortices occur when air flowers over the plane’s wings at a fast speed.

Saturday Science: Vortex

Black Hole

While it is difficult for scientists to show what is happening inside a black hole, many researchers believe that the center of a black hole is a vortex.

Vortex Clouds

You can sometimes see clouds that look like a whirlpool or vortex, thanks to the different air masses moving high up in the sky.

Vortices On Different Planets

Astronomers found many different types of vortices on other planets, such as the vortex on Saturn’s North Pole.

How To Make Your Own Vortex

It is surprisingly easy to make your own vortex. All you need is a couple of big plastic bottles, tap water and a glue gun.

Tools For Your Mini Vortex

In order to create your own mini version of a vortex you will need:

  • Two clear 2 Liter plastic bottles without labels
  • Two inches of PVC pipe (half an inch thick)
  • Hot glue gun and glue
  • Tap water

If you want to see exactly how a vortex works, you can add some glitter or bits of paper to the water. Alternatively, you can make your experiment more fun by adding some food coloring.

Step 1: Prepare The Bottles

Start preparing your bottles by removing the labels. This will ensure that you can clearly see the liquid inside the bottles.

Next, fill one of the big plastic bottles about two-thirds with water. You can add your food coloring or glitter at this point.

Take your hot glue gone and apply a thin ring of hot glue to the inside mouth of the bottle you just filled up. Then quickly add one end of the PVC pipe into the opening.

Make sure to gently twist and push it halfway into the bottle opening to ensure the pipe sits firmly. Keep in mind that the hot glue dries quickly, so you need to do this as fast as possible.

Then apply a thin ring of glue to the mouth opening of the bottle you are working with and quickly push your empty bottle onto the new glue ring.

The glue joint should sit firm and flush. If you notice any water coming out of this section, then you can always dry the area with a towel and apply some more glue.

Step 2: Start The Vortex Experiment

Now, take your bottles and place them on a table in a way so your filled bottle is on the top. Watch the water carefully move from the top bottle into the lower, empty bottle.

You will see a lot of small air bubbles moving into the top bottle while water drips into the lower bottle.

If the water flow stops, then swiftly rotate the bottles in a circle for a few seconds. Then place them back on the table with the full bottle at the top.

Now you should be able to see a funnel-shaped vortex occurring in the top bottle.

Final Thoughts

A vortex is a fascinating phenomenon that you can spot all around you. Try to keep an eye open for vortices and point one out whenever you see it.

Suzy Anderson
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