Water minus gravity


An astronaut looks through a floating bubble of water aboard the International Space Station.


Astronaut Karen Nyberg watches a water bubble float freely between her and the camera, showing her image refracted in the droplet.
Astronaut Karen Nyberg watches a water bubble float freely between her and the camera, showing her image refracted in the droplet.
NASA

A bubble floating through the interior of the International Space Station may be a beautiful thing to witness, but it’s also teaching researchers about how fluids behave in microgravity.

The near-weightless conditions aboard the station allow researchers to observe and control a wide variety of fluids in ways that are not possible on Earth, primarily due to the surface tension dynamics and the lack of buoyancy and sedimentation within fluids in the low-gravity environment.

Understanding how fluids react in these conditions could lead to improved designs on fuel tanks, water systems and other fluid-based systems for space travel, as well as back on Earth.

Many investigations aboard the orbiting laboratory focus on fluid physics including the motion of liquids or the formation of bubbles.

As on Earth, the formation of a bubble is sometimes a welcomed addition, but could also be an indication that something has gone wrong and must be reworked.

Technology, investigations, and even tasks as simple as drinking water must take bubbles into consideration to be adapted to be functional in a microgravity environment.

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