Image: Sheet fragmentation from impact of a drop near a surface edge, causing the sheet’s right part to expand in the air, with unsteady rim bordering the sheet in the air also governed by the unsteady local Bond = 1 universal criterion.
Context: Unsteady fragmentation of a fluid bulk into droplets is important for epidemiology as it governs the transport of pathogens from sneezes and coughs, or from contaminated crops in agriculture. It is also ubiquitous in industrial processes such as paint, coating, and combustion. Unsteady fragmentation is distinct from steady fragmentation on which most theoretical efforts have been focused thus far. We address this gap by studying a canonical unsteady fragmentation process: the breakup from a drop impact on a finite surface where the drop fluid is transferred to a free expanding sheet of time-varying properties and bounded by a rim of time- varying thickness. The continuous rim destabilization selects the final spray droplets, yet this process remains poorly understood. We combine theory with advanced image analysis to study the unsteady rim destabilization. We show that, at all times, the rim thickness is governed by a local instantaneous Bond number equal to unity, defined with the instantaneous, local, unsteady rim acceleration. This criterion is found to be robust and universal for a family of unsteady inviscid fluid sheet fragmentation phenomena, from impacts of drops on various surface geometries to impacts on films. We discuss under which viscous and viscoelastic conditions the criterion continues to govern the unsteady rim thickness.