Observer News

Did you know that clouds have names?

Images taken by Wilson Bentley and property of the Jericho Historical Society


As the title of the GLOBE Elementary book says, clouds do have names. Those names describe the altitude and the appearance of the cloud. Cumulus means pile in Latin, so the name is used to describe low puffy clouds in the sky. Cirrus means locks of hair, and is used to describe those thin wispy clouds found high up in the sky. Some people think that nimbus is a type of cloud, but it is not. It is an affix, or a word that works as a prefix or a suffix. The affix nimbus denotes precipitation, which is rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow as the temperatures in the northern hemisphere get colder. This makes me think of a farmer in Vermont, USA who loved snow. His name was Wilson Bentley and he was always excited by snowflakes. He was so excited that he rigged up a camera he had with a microscope and took the first pictures of snowflakes ever recorded.

His passion for snowflakes and ingenuity in collecting his images reminds us of the link between science and art. In these times as we discover how to do things in new and innovative ways, we seem to always come back to art.


Portrait of Wilson Bentley with his camera


Wilson, or Snowflake Bentley as he is known today, dedicated his life to photographing these beautiful snow crystals. He became a world expert on them. He had multiple publications in science journals, magazines, and newspapers. Mr. Bentley photographed 5,381 snowflakes. Each one was numbered, dated and catalogued. Wilson himself said "I have yet found no exact duplicate. In this inexhaustible storehouse of crystal treasures, what a delight is in store for all future lovers of snowflakes, and of the beautiful in nature.""

Mr. Bentley's photographs are available to look through and study.

The GLOBE Clouds team hopes that as you look up at the sky, you get inspired by the science and also the beauty of nature. We would love to showcase your clouds or sky inspired artwork and pictures. NASA has multiple opportunities and galleries for the connections between art and science. You may also enjoy the 2021 NASA Science calendar highlighting the beauty in nature.

Marilé Colón Robles (NASA Langley, SSAI) is the project scientist for NASA GLOBE Clouds based out of the Science Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center with Science Systems and Applications, Inc. Marilé works with scientists on ways to include citizen science data into research. She also works with students and teachers in the U.S. and around the world on how to engage in real-world STEM activities and in authentic science through the GLOBE Program.



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