Researchers found that star-shaped waves can form in vibrating tanks of liquid oil.
Waves of all kinds often behave in an intuitively linear manner. For instance, a weight on a spring will bob up and down in a manner directly proportional to the force that the weight exerts on the spring.
However, a number of strange waves can also form. They come from what is called nonlinearity, in which a small or simple change results in a disproportionately large or complex effect. For instance, aspects of weather behave chaotically, in a nonlinear manner.
The waves seen on the surface of water also behave in a nonlinear manner such as X- and Y-shaped ocean waves or monstrously large freak waves that seem to come out of nowhere.
Scientists have spotted similar nonlinear effects elsewhere in nature, such as with super-cooled atoms or light travelling in fibre optics.
To uncover new, remarkable nonlinear waves, scientists experimented with circular and rectangular tanks containing about two-fifths of an inch (1 centimetre) of silicon oil.
Researchers placed the tanks on shakers to vibrate the fluid. Scientists then observed that the liquid contained gravity waves - oscillations due to gravity pulling downward and vibrations pushing upward.
A new type of gravity wave eventually resulted, which alternated in shape between stars and polygons - for instance, between a five-pointed star and a five-sided pentagon.
The researchers could change the shapes of these stars and polygons by altering the strength and frequency of the vibrations.
The gravity waves in the liquid interact in a nonlinear manner, resonating and building in complexity, somewhat like how a playground swing will climb higher from repeated pushes. This is the first time such nonlinear, resonant interactions have been seen with gravity waves.
The shapes of these waves did not depend on the form of the containers housing the fluid, researchers said.
"It is generally accepted that the shape of the waves depends on the container shape," said researcher Jean Rajchenbach, a physicist at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France.
"The fact that the pattern shape is here recovered independently of the container shape is surprising, mysterious and stimulating. We have no clear explanation," Rajchenbach told the website.
The study was published in journal Physical Review Letters.
New York: Scientists claim to have discovered a new type of gravity wave, one that is bizarrely shaped like a star.
First Published: Monday, February 25, 2013, 15:47