Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Universe Is A Fractal

These cloud formations show that fractals are everywhere. I have always thought that fractals are an expression of the universal mind. Everything is a fractal. If we could see from above, out of time, I believe that we would see ourselves making fractal patterns as we move across the face of the planet, we would see the patterns of our molecules making fractals, the molecules of our ancestors making up one big fractal as we evolve, the planets and galaxies making fractal patterns... it is the secret of the universe...

From the NASA Goddard Photo and Video photostream at Flickr:

"Large-scale Fractal Motion of Clouds

NASA image acquired September 15, 1999
This Landsat 7 image of clouds off the Chilean coast near the Juan Fernandez Islands (also known as the Robinson Crusoe Islands) on September 15, 1999, shows a unique pattern called a “von Karman vortex street.” This pattern has long been studied in the laboratory, where the vortices are created by oil flowing past a cylindrical obstacle, making a string of vortices only several tens of centimeters long. Study of this classic “flow past a circular cylinder” has been very important in the understanding of laminar and turbulent fluid flow that controls a wide variety of phenomena, from the lift under an aircraft wing to Earth’s weather.

Here, the cylinder is replaced by Alejandro Selkirk Island (named after the true “Robinson Crusoe,” who was stranded here for many months in the early 1700s). The island is about 1.5 km in diameter, and rises 1.6 km into a layer of marine stratocumulus clouds. This type of cloud is important for its strong cooling of the Earth’s surface, partially counteracting the Greenhouse warming. An extended, steady equatorward wind creates vortices with clockwise flow off the eastern edge and counterclockwise flow off the western edge of the island. The vortices grow as they advect hundreds of kilometers downwind, making a street 10,000 times longer than those made in the laboratory. Observing the same phenomenon extended over such a wide range of sizes dramatizes the “fractal” nature of atmospheric convection and clouds. Fractals are characteristic of fluid flow and other dynamic systems that exhibit “chaotic” motions.

Both clockwise and counter-clockwise vortices are generated by flow around the island. As the flow separates from the island’s leeward (away from the source of the wind) side, the vortices “swallow” some of the clear air over the island. (Much of the island air is cloudless due to a local “land breeze” circulation set up by the larger heat capacity of the waters surrounding the island.) The “swallowed” gulps of clear island air get carried along within the vortices, but these are soon mixed into the surrounding clouds."


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