Make a Cloud Mobile

Make a Cloud Mobile

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This mobile of beautiful, feather-weight clouds is balanced so that any gentle breeze sends them turning and twisting. Some are rain clouds, dropping sparkling showers below.

But it's not just a pretty work of art. The shapes represent certain types of clouds. One is a big, scary cumulonimbus cloud. It is very tall, reaching from the lowest stratus clouds all the way up to the highest cirrus clouds. The cumulonimbus is pouring rain. A real cumulonimbus cloud might be causing lightening and thunder too. Another rain cloud is the nimbostratus. It is low and flat—and heavy with rain.

You can make this cool Cloud Mobile with common materials and supplies—and a little patience to get it balanced just right.

Here's how to make your mobile.

Seeing through the clouds

Artist rendering of CloudSat spacecraft in orbit.

CloudSat is an Earth satellite that studies the clouds in ways never before possible. CloudSat's instrument can actually slice through the clouds to see what's inside. It sends out radar signals that bounce off the water in the clouds and return to the CloudSat instrument. The signal that bounces back tells CloudSat how thick the clouds are and how much water they contain. Its data helps scientists understand all the important things to know about clouds.

Knowing how clouds affect Earth's climate is very important. Do clouds trap heat and make Earth's surface warmer? Or do clouds' bright surfaces reflect enough sunlight back into space to make up for the heat they trap? These questions must be answered for scientists to be able to predict how Earth's climate may change. CloudSat flies in a polar orbit (over the North Pole and the South Pole) close together in a certain pattern with four other satellites. This "constellation" of satellites is called the "A-Train."`

Here is a CloudSat poster showing all the cloud types and comparing their altitudes in the sky.

I hung my Cloud Mobile over my bed.

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page published on January 2, 2014
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