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Hey, there's a convection cell in my coffee

Convection cells (and gravity waves) in your morning coffee, and other extraordinary adventures in everyday science.

OK, coffee drinkers, here's a question for you: Ever notice the patterns made by your milk or creamer as it mixes with your joe? I confess that I stop to watch this every single time I have a cup and I often make others watch with me. This morning I was inspired to actually record a short video so I could make people on the Internet watch with me, too.

The swirling patterns made by the creamer are actually gravity waves and convection cells. And convection cells are  phenomenon that we see in much larger form on the surface of the Sun, which is governed by convection. Here's how it works: Plasma heats up in the Sun's interior and rises to the surface, where it then cools and sinks again.

Convection cells can form in any fluid. In addition to the Sun (and my coffee), we see them in Earth's atmosphere and in the mantle, but another fun food example is miso soup. The size of the individual convection cells is governed by the properties of the material. On the Sun, convection cells are about the size of the continental United States. For a more on this phenomenon, check out this educational video from the University of Nebraska. And may your morning coffee from here on out be filled with science!

In other geek:

  • It seems Olympic gold medals are actually only 1 percent gold. How much would a solid-gold Olympic metal cost? Wired did the math.
  • And speaking of math, there are apparently 177,147 ways to tie a necktie. Consider that your Fashion Week geek.
  • Scientist discover crazy new species of sea anemones that live beneath the Antarctic ice shelf. [VIDEO]
  • Richard Branson plans to fly to space with his family on Virgin Galactic before the year is out.
  • What would happen if you put a black hole the size of a penny at the center of the Earth? HINT: nothing good.
  • This engineer built a "gun" in his backyard that can shoot small satellites into space. [VIDEO]
  • As if quadcopters weren't scary enough, you can now control them with YOUR MIND. [VIDEO]
  • Sherlock's "mind palace" memory trick actually originated in ancient Greece.
  • Red deer populations on either side of the former Iron Curtain between German and the Czech Republic seem to have a memory of the former impassable border.

Have a great and geeky weekend!