Yale astronomers create astronomical model inspired by helicopters

Animation by Seligman and Laughlin
October 12, 2017

Yale researchers Darryl Seligman and Greg Laughlin have created a new model for understanding how black holes, planets, and galaxies emerge from the vortex-rich environments of space. They drew inspiration from a mechanical engineering algorithm that shows how air flows past a helicopter’s rotor blades.

Traditional models for planet formations and similar phenomena have been based on an explosive cosmic environment, full of strong shocks. Laughlin and Seligman decided to create a new model, called Maelstrom3D, that focuses on the interplay of vortices in a less combustible cosmic environment.

Using their new model, the researchers applied it to a pair of vortices inserted into a hypothetical patch of accretion disk. They found two main differences from previous models: The vortices may be shedding Rossby waves (atmospheric waves) as they spin, and the number of orbits between the two vortices, which is related to the viscosity of the environment, is different as rendered with their model.

The findings appear online in The Astrophysical Journal.

Maelstrom3D might have other applications beyond astronomy. For example, a recent study suggested that ancient plesiosaurs generated vortices with their front flippers, which helped their back flippers generate more energy for propulsion.

A Gruber Foundation fellowship and the NASA Astrobiology Institute supported the research.

This article has been adapted from the Yale University Press Release by Jim Shelton.