If You Try to Wring Out a Washcloth in Space, You Will Fail

... But you will have a very fun time in the process.

Water, in space, will not flow. It will not cascade, or drip, or fill a cup. Instead, unimpeded by gravity, water tends to collect in floating blobs that are works of beauty and science at the same time.

But what happens when a) you're in space and b) you find yourself with a wet washcloth and c) you try to wring it out?

The answer is that your attempt will be unsuccessful, because the water wants to stay far more than you want it to go. The latest evidence of that comes from the video above, featuring Space Station astronaut Chris Hadfield and a washcloth that has absorbed a large amount of water. And the liquid, save for a few errant blobs, clings to the washcloth instead of flowing to the ground. It forms a kind of tube over the cloth, as well as over the human hands that hold it. It is not going anywhere.

That's because of the surface tension of the water. Unimpeded by gravity, the water's molecules cohere, creating a kind of liquid gel. It's almost, Hadfield says, "like you had Jell-O on your hands."

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How a Psychedelic Masterpiece Is Made

A short documentary about Bruce Riley, an artist who paints abstract wonders with poured resin

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

More in Technology

Just In