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The Beautiful Unpredictability of Coffee, Clouds, and Fire

The International Space Station captured this photo of the Sarychev Volcano erupting on June 12, 2009. Volcanic plumes contain turbulence that extends to a wide range of size scales. NASA

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the seat belt sign. Please return to your seats and ensure your seat belts are fastened.” So goes the familiar prelude to the disconcerting mid-air jostling most people associate with the term turbulence. But turbulence is far more common and far more beautiful than this bumpy ride might lead one to think.

In fluid dynamics, the science of how liquids and gases move, turbulence is a state of being. Any flow may be, or may become, turbulent. In fact, at the human scale, most flows are turbulent. The

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