The breakup of a free thin liquid film subjected to an impulsive acceleration is investigated. A soap film is stretched on a frame at the exit of a shock tube. As the shock impacts the film, the film accelerates within a very short time and detaches from the frame at a constant velocity function of the shock strength. The liquid thickness modulations amplify and eventually the film is perforated with a number of holes, subsequently growing in radius and connecting to each other. The initially connex film is left in the form of a web of liquid ligaments which break into droplets. Both the hole density and formation time depend on the film velocity. We analyse these observations with an impulsive Rayleigh–Taylor instability incorporating liquid surface tension. It is shown to account for both the mode selection and its associated time of growth, providing a criterion for the film bursting time and hole density.
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