Clouds That Way   (2015Aug21)

Friday, August 21, 2015                                           12:52 PM

I noticed that all the pictures from the Hubble telescope look a lot like clouds. In a sense the whole universe is a bunch of clouds—some have condensed into blobs of stars or planets or whatever, but most of it is just a bunch of stuff floating around—the solid objects are about as rarified as they are in the traditional image of the atom. Still, the Perseid meteor shower we watched last week was from a section of the ‘cloud’ of rubble shed by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, entering our atmosphere as the comet passes by every year. Despite their similar appearance to the clouds in our skies, the clouds in space can be made of up gasses, dust, pebbles, or boulders—and their temperatures can vary from near absolute zero to metal-melting plasma.

Our own clouds aren’t the homogenous water-vapor tufts we like to imagine, either, come to think of it—they can swirl into twisters, freeze the water into large hailstones, carry the dust from volcanoes and the smoke from fires, spark lightning-bolts whose heat equals the sun’s surface—not always little puffs of white, clouds.

So what can we learn from the cloud-like appearance of deep space? Should we have been studying cloud formations with the same intensity we study ocean currents and river flows? Should there be a ‘fluid dynamics’ branch for cloud formation? We study gasses and aerodynamics, sure, but a cloud is a discrete entity suspended either in the gasses of our atmosphere or in the vacuum of space—shouldn’t we be looking at this phenomenon as an important branch of physics? Or should we just look for horsies and duckies as they float in the summer sky?

Today is not the day for it—sky’s as blue as blue today, with a fresh breeze pushing the leaves on the trees—here’s video to prove it:

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