Your Head in the Clouds

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Learning Objects (15)

Direct Access Links:
Living Life with Your Head in the Clouds (Google Zeitgeist)
Clouds, Explained (National Geographic)
Introduction to Clouds (National Weather Service)
Ten Basic Clouds (National Weather Service)
NWS Cloud Chart (National Weather Service)
The Color of Clouds (National Weather Service)
NASA GLOBE Cloud Protocol (NASA)
Looking at Earth (Smithsonian)
Clouds – Real Time (NOAA)
A Beam of LITE: 25 Years of Earth-observing Lidar in Space (NASA)
Tracking Clouds Using Satellites (NASA)
The Art of Clouds (Center of Science Education)
Painting Clouds
Five Photographers on Shooting Out-of-this-World Cloud Photos (Shutterstock)
How to Build / Make Mobiles / Kinetic Sculptures


Clouds fascinate us. But only if we take the time to BE AMAZED – and let our imaginations run! Explore the basics of cloud formations and what makes them visible to the human eye. Discover the non-human eye – the satellites in the sky that provide meteorologists with the information they need to make weather forecasts, that inform us about issues such as climate change and so much more.

And remember clouds are not just science but art in the sky! Learn how to paint clouds, how to photograph them and how to be a kinetic sculptor – making cloud and galactic mobiles. As Gavin Pretor-Pinney (first video below) observed in a related TED Talk – we  don’t live beneath the sky – we live within it! Slow down, lay back, take a deep breath, look up, be present – and BE AMAZED!


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Google Zeitgeist

Living Life with Your Head in the Clouds

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, where he urges everyone to step off our digital treadmill, and take a moment to look up at the sky. Clouds bring a beauty and drama to our lives, and the abstraction of them gives us time to develop new ideas.

Cloud Basics

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Clouds, Explained

From giant puffs billowing toward the sun to thin wisps slinking past the moon, clouds come in countless shapes and sizes. This makes them wonderful fodder for the imagination—at some point, hasn’t everyone looked heavenward and seen a fire-breathing dragon floating by? Aside from sparking creativity, clouds serve several important scientific purposes, from helping meteorologists predict the weather to facilitating life on Earth…A single cloud may hold billions of pounds of water—but not all clouds bring rain.


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Introduction to Clouds

Ten Basic Clouds

We see clouds almost daily. But clouds are complicated and varied. While clouds appear in infinite shapes and sizes they fall into some basic categories. Learn about clouds and how they form to become “Cloudwise.”

NWS Cloud Chart

Before the availability of high-resolution satellite images, the weather observer would identify the types of clouds present and estimate their height. Symbols representing cloud types were plotted on weather maps where the forecaster would analyze the data to determine the location of various weather systems. In 1930s, the National Weather Service standardized codes for cloud forms and state of the sky according to the international system of classification. The Cloud Chart shows of each of these 27 categories, views of the type of cloud, and the official description of that type and associated symbol.

Get your head in the clouds! Build a cloud spotter wheel. Using the NWS Cloud Chart, identify clouds and record your observations.

The Color of Clouds

The color of a cloud depends primarily upon the color of the light it receives. The Earth’s natural source of light is the sun which provides ‘white’ light. White light combines all of the colors in the ‘visible spectrum’, which is the range of colors we can see.

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What are Clouds?

NASA Knows! Series – Grades K-4

Clouds are important for many reasons. Rain and snow are two of those reasons. At night, clouds reflect heat and keep the ground warmer. During the day, clouds make shade that can keep us cooler. Studying clouds helps NASA better understand Earth’s weather. NASA uses satellites in space to study clouds.



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NASA STEM Engagement

NASA sponsors the GLOBE Program. The GLOBE Program is an international science and education program that provides learners in both formal and informal setting, as well as the general public with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process. NASA GLOBE Observer is a free smartphone app that lets anybody make several citizen science observations from the palm of their hand

NASA GLOBE Cloud Protocol

If you find yourself creating excuses to be outside or to learn more about the natural world, look no further! Citizen science is a fun way to participate in meaningful studies of Earth’s Spheres (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere (soil)).

GLOBE Observer is an international network of citizen scientists and scientists working together to learn more about our shared environment and changing climate. To participate, just download the GLOBE Observer app and submit regular observations. You can also create your GLOBE Observer account to access the website and app.

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Exploring the Earth & Clouds From Space

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Looking at Earth 

Throughout history we have sought to better understand our world by viewing it from above. We first climbed trees, hills, and fortress towers to observe the lay of the land. Today, aircraft and spacecraft look down on Earth to predict the weather, survey the terrain, monitor crops and forests, plan cities, locate resources, and gather intelligence.

From balloons, to aircraft, to spacecraft, we have pushed ourselves higher and higher toward different goals and challenges. Yet, to many who have participated in these thrilling voyages, the best part of all was looking back toward home.

Clouds are the most obvious features appearing on satellite weather imagery. Close-up views reveal complex and delicate patterns, from crisscrossing streaks and ocean-like waves, to massive storm systems and eddies in the wakes of islands.

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Clouds – Real Time

Infrared satellite images are used by meteorologists to determine where clouds are, but more importantly, how the clouds are moving. Over the United States there are two such satellites, the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites) -East and GOES-West.


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A Beam of LITE: 25 Years of Earth-observing Lidar in Space

It was a technology demonstration. Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, wanted to prove that an Earth-observing lidar could work in space. They succeeded beyond their expectations. Instead of flat, two-dimensional imagery, LITE revealed intricate multi-layer cloud structures resembling works of art. The instrument literally gave researchers a new way of looking at Earth’s atmosphere from space and in doing so laid the groundwork for future lidar missions.

Tracking Clouds Using Satellites

Tune in to the evening weather report on any given day, and you’ll no doubt see satellite images of clouds. For years, experts have used cloud observations to predict the weather, from forecasting extreme weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, to simply telling people whether they need to take an umbrella or sunscreen on their afternoon picnic. Currently, the cloud motion data used to derive wind measurements are observed from geostationary satellites.


Not Just Science: The Art of Clouds

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The Art of Clouds

Explore paintings to identify cloud types with your new-found learning about the characteristics of cloud formations. Appreciate the beauty of these images and try your own hand at creating them!

Painting Clouds

Painting clouds can either be a subtle addition or a major part of a finished painting. The challenge with learning how to paint clouds, is capturing the subtle variables. If you look closely, you will generally find that clouds have both lighter and darker areas. Watch this artist capture these variables, building clouds by starting with darker color and adding highlights.

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Five Photographers on Shooting Out-of-this-World Cloud Photos

Even if you don’t have a professional camera, with manual settings and tripods, photographing clouds can be enjoyable and rewarding. As one photographer noted “Taking photographs of clouds can be an enriching activity, but, in my book, whenever you start working in a new area of photography, you should always try to learn more about the subject you are engaging with. I learned about clouds by studying the science behind them and discovered that they are far more complex than you might think at first.”

How to Build / Make Mobiles / Kinetic Sculptures

Explore kinetic sculpting with an artist that specializes in mobiles. Marco Mahler makes handmade mobileslarge custom-made mobiles3D printed mobiles and kinetic sculptures. Mahler observes that ever since he came across Alexander Calder‘s mobiles at the National Gallery of Art nineteen years ago, he’s been fascinated with mobiles.

Try making a mobile using NASA’s insight about making cloud mobiles or give NASA’s galactic mobiles a try! Maybe you too, can be a kinetic sculptor!

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Ontology Tags Arts & Entertainment: Authorship & Composition – Learning through Art |Climate & Weather: Weather Far & Wide – (1) Weather Basics (2) Satellites & Technology | Space Exploration: Exploring Earth from Space – Satellites Watching Earth | STEM Research & Applications: Engineering Our World – STEM All Around Us

Search Terms Media Produced: (1) Digital Content – Digital Photography (2) Tactile – Sculpting (3) Physical Drawings & Fine Arts – Painting | Challenging Problems (1) Questions – Reveal the World (2) Physical World – (a) Climate & Weather (b) Investigating Earth (3) Of the Mind – State of Mind | Intended Learning Outcomes: (1) Creativity – Design or Create (2) Critical Thinking – Draw Analytical Conclusions | Success Skills & Depth of Knowledge: (1) Cognitive Demand – (a) Identifying & Remembering (b) Applying (c) Analyzing (d) Evaluating (e) Creating (2) Learning Styles & Intelligences – (a) Logical or Mathematical (b) Naturalist (c) Visual or Spatial | CTEs & Disciplines: (1) Arts & Entertainment (2) STEM Research & Applications (3) Art Studies (4) Basic Math (5) Astronomy (6) Earth & Geo Sciences