The Rayleigh number is defined as the product of the Grashof number, which describes the relationship between buoyancy and viscosity within a fluid, and the Prandtl number, which describes the relationship between momentum diffusivity and thermal diffusivity. Hence it may also be viewed as the ratio of buoyancy and viscosity forces multiplied by the ratio of momentum and thermal diffusivities. It is closely related to the Nusselt number.
For most engineering purposes, the Rayleigh number is large, somewhere around 106 to 108. It is named after Lord Rayleigh, who described the property's relationship with fluid behaviour.
The Rayleigh number describes the behaviour of fluids (such as water or air) when the mass density of the fluid is non-uniform. The mass density differences are usually caused by temperature differences. Typically a fluid expands and becomes less dense as it is heated. Gravity causes denser parts of the fluid to sink, which is called convection. Lord Rayleigh studied the case of Rayleigh-Bénard convection. When the Rayleigh number, Ra, is below a critical value for a fluid, there is no flow and heat transfer is purely by conduction; when it exceeds that value, heat is transferred by natural convection.
When the mass density difference is caused by temperature difference, Ra is, by definition, the ratio of the time scale for diffusive thermal transport to the time scale for convective thermal transport at speed :
This means the Rayleigh number is a type of Péclet number. For a volume of fluid of size in all three dimensions[clarification needed] and mass density difference , the force due to gravity is of the order , where is acceleration due to gravity. From the Stokes equation, when the volume of fluid is sinking, viscous drag is of the order , where is the dynamic viscosity of the fluid. When these two forces are equated, the speed . Thus the time scale for transport via flow is . The time scale for thermal diffusion across a distance is , where is the thermal diffusivity. Thus the Rayleigh number Ra is
where we approximated the density difference for a fluid of average mass density , thermal expansion coefficient and a temperature difference across distance .
A-segregates are predicted to form when the Rayleigh number exceeds a certain critical value. This critical value is independent of the composition of the alloy, and this is the main advantage of the Rayleigh number criterion over other criteria for prediction of convectional instabilities, such as Suzuki criterion.
Torabi Rad et al. showed that for steel alloys the critical Rayleigh number is 17. Pickering et al. explored Torabi Rad's criterion, and further verified its effectiveness. Critical Rayleigh numbers for lead–tin and nickel-based super-alloys were also developed.
The Rayleigh number above is for convection in a bulk fluid such as air or water, but convection can also occur when the fluid is inside and fills a porous medium, such as porous rock saturated with water. Then the Rayleigh number, sometimes called the Rayleigh-Darcy number, is different. In a bulk fluid, i.e., not in a porous medium, from the Stokes equation, the falling speed of a domain of size of liquid . In porous medium, this expression is replaced by that from Darcy's law, with the permeability of the porous medium. The Rayleigh or Rayleigh-Darcy number is then
This also applies to A-segregates, in the mushy zone of a solidifying alloy.
In geophysics, the Rayleigh number is of fundamental importance: it indicates the presence and strength of convection within a fluid body such as the Earth's mantle. The mantle is a solid that behaves as a fluid over geological time scales. The Rayleigh number for the Earth's mantle due to internal heating alone, RaH, is given by:
High values for the Earth's mantle indicates that convection within the Earth is vigorous and time-varying, and that convection is responsible for almost all the heat transported from the deep interior to the surface.
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^ abTorabi Rad, M.; Kotas, P.; Beckermann, C. (2013). "Rayleigh number criterion for formation of A-Segregates in steel castings and ingots". Metall. Mater. Trans. A. 44A (9): 4266–4281. Bibcode:2013MMTA...44.4266R. doi:10.1007/s11661-013-1761-4. S2CID 137652216.
^Pickering, E.J.; Al-Bermani, S.; Talamantes-Silva, J. (2014). "Application of criterion for A-segregation in steel ingots". Materials Science and Technology.
^Lister, John R.; Neufeld, Jerome A.; Hewitt, Duncan R. (2014). "High Rayleigh number convection in a three-dimensional porous medium". Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 748: 879–895. arXiv:0811.0471. Bibcode:2014JFM...748..879H. doi:10.1017/jfm.2014.216. ISSN 1469-7645. S2CID 43758157.
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