Scientists: Raindrops Aren't Shaped Like Tears at All

They actually resemble hamburger bun tops
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 13, 2014 6:39 AM CST
Updated Feb 13, 2014 6:50 AM CST

(Newser) – It turns out you've been drawing raindrops incorrectly your entire life. NASA scientists have determined that they don't actually resemble tears. They look more like hamburger bun tops: rounded above, flat on the bottom. As a video made by NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement explains, a raindrop begins its life in a ball-like shape due to the surface tension, or "skin," of the water molecules. As it grows it gets heavier and starts to fall, and can then collide and combine with other drops, growing in size. This larger drop picks up speed, and is met with wind resistance from below that alters its shape, morphing it into the bun.

The shape-shifting doesn't stop there. Bigger raindrops, defined by the Telegraph as measuring three-sixteenths of an inch, take on a parachute-like or kidney-bean-like appearance as they continue to fall; the surface tension of a drop eventually can't keep it together, and it splinters into two. According to NASA associate research scientist Chris Kidd, the find has implications that go well beyond your kid's next art project. That's because "if you can see the shape of the raindrop you can extrapolate whether a storm is increasing in its intensity or decaying," he says, in what he calls "'nowcasting'—forecasting the weather for the next 30 to 60 minutes." That information could be used to better inform pilots traveling in storms, or communities experiencing flooding. (Click to read about another discovery that will alter what you've believed since you were a child about crocodiles.)

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