Gallery 3

Turbulent Orb

A large blue orb exhibit.

Chaotic fluid patterns swirl in unpredictable ways, representing how Earth's oceans and atmosphere can move unpredictably.

How it works

Spin the globe and watch random patterns in the fluid. Try spinning the globe slowly, quickly, then stop it and spin it the other way.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Spin the orb, then quickly stop the orb from spinning to observe chaotic, swirling patterns within the fluid.
  • What do the swirling patterns remind you of?
  • Can we get the same patterns to occur in succession?


When you spin the globe, the fluid inside is dragged along due to friction. The patterns formed in the fluid look random (an example of chaotic motion) and are changing all the time, but they are following definite mathematical rules. The patterns that you see will never occur again in exactly the same way.

If you spin the globe quickly, the fluid near the surface moves in a turbulent way; with lots of little swirls and eddies. Air near the surface of the Earth moves like this.

If you spin the globe slowly, the liquid forms bands or stripes. Spinning causes bands in the atmosphere of planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. Air high in the Earth’s atmosphere also moves in bands

Finding the science in your world

Weather systems and ocean currents are affected by the spinning of the planet and temperature differences. A very small change in one place can lead to large differences in the whole pattern. For this reason, weather forecasts will probably never be accurate beyond a few weeks.