Physics

The Coriolis Effect Is Real, Just Not For Your Toilet

Excited for today's eclipse? Visit our Eclipse 2017 page to explore the science, history, and myths of the event. The Curiosity team will be viewing the eclipse alongside NASA in Carbondale, Illinois. Follow us on Facebook for live videos, trivia, and interviews today!

The Coriolis effect is the force that makes wind, water, and virtually every other free-moving thing curve with the rotation of the Earth on its axis. In simpler terms, the constant spin of the Earth to the east makes hurricanes and other large-scale phenomena spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The key term here is "large-scale phenomena": the force is too weak to affect the flush of a toilet or even the spin of a tornado. In toilets, the shape of the bowl and the force and speed of the water rushing in have a much greater impact on the direction the water spins. And while it's possible that the Coriolis effect could play a role in the direction a tornado spins, that is most often determined by the storm system that spawned it. Still, when all other effects are eliminated -- the water is utterly still, the container is perfectly shaped, and the drain is placed just right -- scientists have actually witnessed the Coriolis effect's impact on a pool of water. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

If you liked this you'll love our podcast! Check it out on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, search 'curiosity' on your favorite podcast app or add the RSS Feed URL.

Advertisement