Playa Science #1: Giant Smoke Rings

Playa Science #1: Giant Smoke Rings
by Ess Dot!

Every month or two, if you like, I’ll post a short piece on the physics of some of the amazing phenomena that you get to see on the playa. There is a secret world of magic in the sand serpents, the birth of a dust storm, mathematical mud cracks and heat devils.

First off, recall those giant smoke rings that float up, ethereally and silently, into the sky. They are just a semi-stable toroidal vortex, like a donut of air, with smoke flowing from the inside wall of the donut, over the top to the outside. Think of a tornado and mentally grab the top and the bottom and join them up into a circle. It’s exactly the same physics! The equations the same, all you have to do is match the end boundary conditions.
The remarkable thing about these vortices is their relative stability. If you haven’t already seen it… here is one:

By the way, farting volcanos puff smoke rings, so do dolphins. Youtube it up and find ’em 🙂

Originally posted at

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