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Natural phenomenon extends far into the atmosphere, giving us Earth-bound critters a gorgeous view of the heavens. Here are 9 rare cloud formations with explanations to their mystery for your viewing pleasure.
1. Morning Glory Clouds
Coming in at an average of 1,000 kilometers (621 mi) long and occurring at altitudes of around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), Morning Glory Clouds are very rare, very long wonders. The tubes of atmospheric puff can reach wind speeds up to 60 kph (37 mph) and be incredibly dangerous for air traffic. Want to see them? Check out Burketown, Queensland in Australia during spring for a guaranteed occurrence.
2. Fallstreak Hole (Hole Punch Cloud)
A fallstreak hole, also known as a hole-punch cloud or sky punch cloud is just that, a hole in the clouds. But what makes this formation interesting is the formation process. The fallstreak hole is formed from small clouds in high altitudes when the water temperature is below freezing in the clouds, yet it hasn’t frozen completely. This is due to failure of ice nucleation, so when ice crystals do form, the reaction causes the droplets of water around the ice crystals to evaporate – thus leaving a hole in the sky!
3. Kelvin-Helmholtz Cloud Formations
Kelvin-Helmholtz Clouds (billow clouds), are lovely, swirly clouds reminiscent of beach waves. They form as an indication of atmospheric instability forming on windy days where the densities in the air differ significantly.
4. Funnel Cloud
A classic favorite for adventure seekers and weather enthusiasts is the good ole funnel cloud. Don’t be misled, however, as the funnel cloud is not a tornado until it touches the ground.
5. Polar Stratospheric Clouds
These beauties form at around 70,000 feet in the Earth’s stratosphere, where clouds normally don’t venture due to extreme dryness. The reason they end up there is because of temperature drops at high altitudes and become colorful little rainbows when sunlight is refracted off of ice crystals during sunrise and sunset.
6. Mammatus Clouds
These little pouches of coolness hang under the base of a cloud thanks to sinking air – the opposite of any other form of clouds that form in rising air. The cause is still being researched and there are many ideas behind the cause of mammatuis cloud formation.
Virga (not to be confused with Viagra at quick glance) is a common occurrence in desert climates. The clouds are wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud that never quite makes it to the ground, since it evaporates before it even had a fighting chance.
8. Lenticular Clouds
Commonly known as UFO clouds, these multilayered clouds form at high altitudes and stay put, hovering over mountain tops in lens-shaped clouds of strangeness – hence the explanation for some UFO sightings.
9. Noctilucent Clouds
Some of the more romantic looking clouds are noctilucent clouds or night clouds, made of crystals of water ice visible in deep twilight. The best time to see them is summertime at latitudes between 50° and 70° north and south of the equator.