It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Clouds are fascinating because they take on so many different, beautiful shapes and are constantly changing. Cloud-watching from Earth can be endlessly entertaining, but some of the most amazing cloud patterns can only be properly appreciated from space. Satellites can take in thousands of miles of the Earth’s surface in one shot, revealing complicated and intriguing cloud patterns we could never see from below. We’ve gathered here some of the best cloud formations to see from above.
The crazy-looking swirls in the image above may be one of the weirdest cloud formations that can be seen from space. The pattern is known as a von Kármán vortex street, named after Theodore von Kármán. First noticed in the laboratory by fluid dynamicists, it occurs when a more-viscous fluid flows through water and encounters a cylindrical object, which creates vortices in the flow. Alejandro Selkirk Island, off the Chilean coast, is acting like the cylinder in the image above, taken by the Landsat 7 satellite in September 1999. A beautiful vortex street disrupts a layer of stratocumulus clouds low enough to be affected by the island, which rises a mile above sea level.
Under specific conditions, the towering, fluffy white clouds known as cumulonimbus can become flattened into the shape of an anvil. The anvil in the image above was captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station as it crossed over western Africa in February 2008. Cumulonimbus clouds form when air warmed by sun-heated ground rises. If the warm air contains water vapor and it encounters cooler air, the moisture condenses into water droplets. The air continues to rise, expand and cool as atmospheric pressure and temperature decrease. At the same time, heat released from the phase transition between water vapor and liquid water warms the air. The cooler air wants to fall, while the warmed air wants to rise, which sets up convection cells that feed the tall cloud towers and often result in thunderstorms
Gravity Waves, Indian Ocean
The gravity-wave clouds in this image look almost like a fingerprint on the stratocumulus cloud layer below them. This intriguing pattern occurs when air below moves vertically to disturb a stable cloud layer, causing a ripple effect. The disturbance can be caused by features of the terrain below, such as a mountain range, but these waves overlie the Indian Ocean and are more likely the result of a vertical updraft caused by a thunderstorm or some other atmospheric instability.
This vast, impressively uniform layer of small clouds over the Amazon rain forest shown in the image above is the product of rapid plant growth. During the forest’s dry season, the plants get more sunlight. This leads to more growth and more photosynthesis, which releases water vapor into the air through transpiration. The warm, wet air rises and cools, causing the water vapor to condense into small, fluffy white clouds that resemble popcorn. (My favorite one)
Though these clouds may resemble airplane contrails, the streaky clouds of condensation that follow in the wake of jet airplanes, they are actually ship tracks, clouds that form around the exhaust released by ships into the still ocean air.