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Vortex created by the passage of an aircraft wing, revealed by colored smoke
A vortex (plural: vortices) is a spinning, often turbulent, flow of fluid. Any spiral motion with
closed streamlines is vortex flow. The motion of the fluid swirling rapidly around a center is
called a vortex. The speed and rate of rotation of the fluid in a free (irrotational) vortex are
greatest at the center, and decrease progressively with distance from the center, whereas the
speed of a forced (rotational) vortex is zero at the center and increases proportional to the
distance from the center. Both types of vortices exhibit a pressure minimum at the center, though
the pressure minimum in a free vortex is much lower.
3 Two types of vortex
o 3.1 Free (irrotational) vortex
o 3.2 Forced (rotational) vortex
4 Vortices in magnets
o 5.1 Instances
6 See also
7 References and further reading
8 External links
Crow Instability contrail demonstrates vortex
Vortices display some special properties:
The fluid pressure in a vortex is lowest in the center and rises progressively with distance
from the center. This is in accordance with Bernoulli's Principle. The core of a vortex in
air is sometimes visible because of a plume of water vapor caused by condensation in the
low pressure of the core. The spout of a tornado is a classic and frightening example of
the visible core of a vortex. A dust devil is also the core of a vortex, made visible by the
dust drawn upwards by the turbulent flow of air from ground level into the low pressure
The core of every vortex can be considered to contain a vortex line, and every particle in
the vortex can be considered to be circulating around the vortex line. Vortex lines can
start and end at the boundary of the fluid or form closed loops. They cannot start or end
in the fluid. (See Helmholtz's theorems.) Vortices readily deflect and attach themselves to
a solid surface. For example, a vortex usually forms ahead of the propeller disk or jet
engine of a slow-moving airplane. One end of the vortex line is attached to the propeller
disk or jet engine, but when the airplane is taxiing the other end of the vortex line readily
attaches itself to the ground rather than end in midair. The vortex can suck water and
small stones into the core and then into the propeller disk or jet engine.
Two or more vortices that are approximately parallel and circulating in the same direction
will merge to form a single vortex. The circulation of the merged vortex will equal the
sum of the circulations of the constituent vortices. For example, a sheet of small vortices
flows from the trailing edge of the wing or propeller of an airplane when the wing is
developing lift or the propeller is developing thrust. In less than one wing chord
downstream of the trailing edge of the wing these small vortices merge to form a single
vortex. If viewed from the tail of the airplane, looking forward in the direction of flight,
there is one wingtip vortex trailing from the left-hand wing and circulating clockwise,
and another wingtip vortex trailing from the right-hand wing and circulating anti-
clockwise. The result is a region of downwash behind the wing, between the pair of
wingtip vortices. These two wingtip vortices do not merge because they are circulating in
Vortices contain a lot of energy in the circular motion of the fluid. In an ideal fluid this
energy can never be dissipated and the vortex would persist forever. However, real fluids
exhibit viscosity and this dissipates energy very slowly from the core of the vortex. (See
Rankine vortex). It is only through dissipation of a vortex due to viscosity that a vortex
line can end in the fluid, rather than at the boundary of the fluid. For example, the wingtip
vortices from an airplane dissipate slowly and linger in the atmosphere long after the
airplane has passed. This is a hazard to other aircraft and is known as wake turbulence.
A vortex can be any circular or rotary flow. Perhaps unexpectedly, not all vortices possess
vorticity. Vorticity is a mathematical concept used in fluid dynamics. It can be related to the
amount of "circulation" or "rotation" in a fluid. In fluid dynamics, vorticity is the circulation per
unit area at a point in the flow field. It is a vector quantity, whose direction is (roughly speaking)
along the axis of the swirl. The vorticity of a free vortex is zero everywhere except at the center,
whereas the vorticity of a forced vortex is non-zero. Vorticity is an approximately conserved
quantity, meaning that it is not readily created or destroyed in a flow. Therefore, flows that start
with minimal vorticity, such as water in a basin, create vortices with minimal vorticity, such as
the characteristic swirling and approximately free vortex structure when it drains. By contrast,
fluids that initially have vorticity, such as water in a rotating bowl, form vortices with vorticity,
exhibited by the much less pronounced low pressure region at the center of this flow. Also in
fluid dynamics, the movement of a fluid can be said to be vortical if the fluid moves around in a
circle, or in a helix, or if it tends to spin around some axis. Such motion can also be called
solenoidal. In the atmospheric sciences, vorticity is a property that characterizes large-scale
rotation of air masses. Since the atmospheric circulation is nearly horizontal, the (3 dimensional)
vorticity is nearly vertical, and it is common to use the vertical component as a scalar vorticity.
Mathematically, vorticity is defined as the curl of the fluid velocity :
 Two types of vortex
In fluid mechanics, a distinction is often made between two limiting vortex cases. One is called
the free (irrotational) vortex, and the other is the forced (rotational) vortex. These are considered
Two autumn leaves in an
Two autumn leaves in a Two autumn leaves in a irrotational vortex preserve
counter-clockwise vortex rotational vortex rotate with their original orientation while
(reference position). the counter-clockwise flow. moving counter-clockwise.
 Free (irrotational) vortex
When fluid is drawn down a plug-hole, one can observe the phenomenon of a free vortex or line
vortex. The tangential velocity v varies inversely as the distance r from the center of rotation, so
the angular momentum, rv, is constant; the vorticity is zero everywhere (except for a singularity
at the center-line) and the circulation about a contour containing r = 0 has the same value
everywhere. The free surface (if present) dips sharply (as r −2 ) as the center line is approached.
The tangential velocity is given by:
where Γ is the circulation and r is the radial distance from the center of the vortex.
In non-technical terms, the fluid near the center of the vortex circulates faster than the fluid far
from the center. The speed along the circular path of flow is held constant or decreases as you
move out from the center. At the same time the inner streamlines have a shorter distance to travel
to complete a ring. If you were running a race on a circular track would you rather be on the
inside or outside, assuming the goal was to complete a circle? Imagine a leaf floating in a free
vortex. The leaf's tip points to the center and the blade straddles multiple streamlines. The outer
flow is slow in terms of angle traversed and it exerts a backwards tug on the base of the leaf
while the faster inner flow pulls the tip forwards. The drag force opposes rotation of the leaf as it
moves around the circle.
 Forced (rotational) vortex
In a forced vortex the fluid essentially rotates as a solid body (there is no shear). The motion can
be realized by placing a dish of fluid on a turntable rotating at ω radians/sec; the fluid has
vorticity of 2ω everywhere, and the free surface (if present) is a parabola.
The tangential velocity is given by:
where ω is the angular velocity and r is the radial distance from the center of the vortex.
 Vortices in magnets
Different classes of vortex waves also exist in magnets. There are exact solutions to classical
nonlinear magnetic equations e.g. Landau-Lifshitz equation, continuum Heisenberg model,
Ishimori equation, nonlinear Schrödinger equation and so on.
A vortex can be seen in the spiraling motion of air or liquid around a center of rotation. The
circular current of water of conflicting tides often form vortex shapes. Turbulent flow makes
many vortices. A good example of a vortex is the atmospheric phenomenon of a whirlwind or a
tornado or dust devil. This whirling air mass mostly takes the form of a helix, column, or spiral.
Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms, usually spawned from squall lines and supercell
thunderstorms, though they sometimes happen as a result of a hurricane.
In atmospheric physics, a mesovortex is on the scale of a few miles (smaller than a hurricane but
larger than a tornado).  On a much smaller scale, a vortex is usually formed as water goes down
a drain, as in a sink or a toilet. This occurs in water as the revolving mass forms a whirlpool.
This whirlpool is caused by water flowing out of a small opening in the bottom of a basin or
reservoir. This swirling flow structure within a region of fluid flow opens downward from the
In the hydrodynamic interpretation of the behaviour of electromagnetic fields, the
acceleration of electric fluid in a particular direction creates a positive vortex of magnetic
fluid. This in turn creates around itself a corresponding negative vortex of electric fluid.
Smoke ring : A ring of smoke which persists for a surprisingly long time, illustrating the
slow rate at which viscosity dissipates the energy of a vortex.
Lift-induced drag of a wing on an aircraft.
The primary cause of drag in the sail of a sloop.
Whirlpool: a swirling body of water produced by ocean tides or by a hole underneath the
vortex where the water would drain out, such as a bathtub. A large, powerful whirlpool is
known as a maelstrom. In popular imagination, but only rarely in reality, they can have
the dangerous effect of destroying boats. Examples are Scylla and Charybdis of classical
mythology in the Straits of Messina, Italy; the Naruto whirlpools of Nankaido, Japan; the
Maelstrom, Lofoten, Norway.
Tornado : a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel-shaped cloud. A less
violent version of a tornado, over water, is called a waterspout.
Hurricane : a much larger, swirling body of clouds produced by evaporating warm ocean
water and influenced by the Earth's rotation. Similar, but far greater, vortices are also
seen on other planets, such as the permanent Great Red Spot on Jupiter and the
intermittent Great Dark Spot on Neptune.
Polar vortex : a persistent, large-scale cyclone centered near the Earth's poles, in the
middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere.
Sunspot : dark region on the Sun's surface (photosphere) marked by a lower temperature
than its surroundings, and intense magnetic activity.
The accretion disk of a black hole or other massive gravitational source.
Spiral galaxy : a type of galaxy in the Hubble sequence which is characterized by a thin,
rotating disk. Earth's galaxy, the Milky Way, is of this type.