Levitating in a Fluid

Orbiting Bismuth Spheres

Strong magnetic fields suspend two bismuth spheres in a fluid, mimicking the weightlessness of space. Finely crushed pieces of bismuth can be seen flowing in streaks around the two spheres.
Image Credit: R. J. A. Hill/University of Nottingham/PRL

June 14, 2013

Without gravity, seemingly mundane experiments on Earth can become mesmerizing — and that's especially true for fluid dynamics.

While scientists experiment with fluids in microgravity on the International Space Station, science in space comes at a hefty cost. A little creativity, however, has allowed scientists to re-create the weightlessness of space on Earth.

H.A. Pacheco-Martinez and colleagues from the University of Nottingham used strong magnetic fields to suspend small spheres of bismuth in a fluid, as seen in the image above. After that, they shook things up — literally.

When they shook the suspended spheres, they attracted one another. Shaking above a critical frequency even caused the two spheres to orbit each other like a binary star system. Now that's how you bring space down to Earth.