Ever looked up at the sky and seen some interesting looking clouds? I’m sure we all have at some point or another. Sometimes we see shapes in them, which it’s self is some interesting neurological science, but what I find more interesting is the science behind those fluffy pillows in the sky them selves. The chemistry and physics which makes the water rise up to the sky, the days hot or cold, and the rain pour down.
At first things like the water cycle might seem basic and mundane. But if you can come to appreciate the importance of what goes on in the sky, you’ll soon realize that weather science is very expansive, interesting and completely vital for life as we know it. We all know water evaporates, floats to the sky, condenses, falls and does it all over again. But how does it stay in the sky? What does it leave behind? Why do clouds all look so different and what effect do they have other aspects of the ecosystem? The answers to these things have always captured my interest.
Clouds don’t just magically form from condensed water or they’d fall right away. Instead droplets form around microscopic dust particles which float around in the sky. Enough of these droplets close together and we see wispy or fluffy or dark patches of them in the sky. But it isn’t until they all starts to contact each other that they form drops and finally come hurdling back down to Earth. Drops can reach speeds of up to 10 m/s! And why can’t they go faster? Another aspect of science, terminal velocity. As something falls it gather more air resistance. Eventually the resistance and gravitational forces equalize and the object, in this case a drop, can not accelerate any more. See? It’s not just about the water cycle!
But for water to evaporate in the first place, we also need energy. Energy traveling almost 150 million km from the Sun to help water our crops and push a gentle breeze though our hair. It’s something we take for granted day in and day out, but the Sun is the most important aspect of weather there is. It not only drives the water cycle, but virtually all the energy on our planet comes from the sun in some form or another. Some of it is stored deep beneath the Earth for millions, even billions of years, and some of it is used instantly by photo voltaic cells on solar panels. This energy drives us, our cars, our TVs and it’s also what causes the rain.
As great as the Sun’s energy is in the right amounts, when we hold onto too much of it, we see climate change happen. Along with all that water vapor and oxygen we need to breathe, there are many other chemicals floating around in the air. An important one in particular everyone’s heard of is CO2, carbon dioxide. This gas is the main driver behind climate change. With just the right concentration of it, it captures enough energy from the Sun to give us a comfortable, livable temperature. But if we throw that balance off, one of two things happens. Without enough CO2, the Sun’s energy would radiate back off into space and our planet would be a barren freezing world like Mars. Too much CO2, and very little of that energy would be able to escape, turning Earth into a scorching wasteland like Venus.
Beyond just what I’ve said, there is so much more to weather. I didn’t even talk about particles in the sky building up and charges and treating us to the fantastic light show of lightning, or the mysterious beauty of a hole punch cloud or even snow sleet and hail! I’ve already made this too long, but I could go on for pages about this. I simple find weather amazing.
Next time you’re outside and you look up at those clouds, have a really good look at them. take note of how sometimes they float very low and you almost feel like you could jump and touch them (or in the case of fog, literally touch them).Look at the layers of clouds shortly before a storm. How different types of clouds form different shapes and hold different amounts of water. View a storm system from far away and sometimes you can actually see the rain falling as if someone smeared the cloud with their thumb. It’s also another great opportunity to introduce your child to the world of science and inspire a young mind to learn. If you just take a minute to appreciate these things, you may quickly find yourself staring out the windows for hours whenever you can in order to get a better look at the wonderful science constantly happening all around us.
Here is a great page with lots of weather related activities for kids!