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The Plateau-Rayleigh instability, often called the Rayleigh instability, explains why and how a falling stream of fluid breaks up into smaller packets with the same volume but less surface area. It is related to the Rayleigh-Taylor instability.
The driving force of the Plateau-Rayleigh instability is that liquids, by virtue of their surface tensions, tend to minimize their surface area.
Additional recommended knowledge
The Plateau-Rayleigh instability is named for Joseph Plateau and Lord Rayleigh. In 1873, Plateau found experimentally that a vertically falling stream of water will break up into drops if its length is greater than about 3.13 to 3.18 times its diameter.  Later, Rayleigh showed theoretically that a vertically falling column of non-viscous liquid with a circular cross-section should break up into drops if its length exceeded its circumference, or Pi times its diameter. 
Water dripping from a faucet
A special case of this is the formation of small droplets when water is dripping from a faucet. When a segment of water begins to separate from the faucet, a neck is formed and then stretched. If the diameter of the faucet is big enough, the neck doesn't get sucked back in, and it undergoes a Plateau-Rayleigh instability and collapses into a small droplet.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Plateau-Rayleigh_instability". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|