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Stunning Timelapse Video: This is How an Ice Cloud Is Born...In Laboratories

Dec 22, 2016 08:01 AM EST

For the first time, scientists have witnessed the birth of atmospheric ice clouds, and they did not need to be aboard a plane to watch the formation.

According to Science Daily, the process which has been witnessed by an international team of scientists is called ice nucleation which happens when a particle attracts water vapor, forming ice crystals that become the core of icy cirrus clouds.

Cirrus clouds, as University of Illinois states on its interactive website is the most common form of high-level clouds, typically found at heights greater than 20,000 feet (6,000 meters). They are often thin and wispy.

The ice nucleation, as mentioned by first author Bingbing Wang, a scientist formerly with the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), in a press release, is one of the most critical but least understood parts of the process of how cold clouds form.

The formation was captured by using environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM), an instrument that can amplify subjects in a gaseous environment. The captured photo every 3 seconds and put them together in stunning time-lapse video.

To create the ice clouds in the lab, the scientists replicated the natural environment of the atmosphere. When forming in a more natural way, the cirrus clouds are composed of ice crystals that originate from the freezing of super cooled water droplets.

A highly confined climate-controlled chamber the size of a poppy seed has been used to control conditions such as temperature, pressure and humidity, ITech Post notes.

In the atmosphere, airborne particles including those containing mineral dust, volcanic ash, carbon-based material, soot, aircraft emissions or even microbes are at the core of cloud-formation events.

In the experiment, they used particles that are about two to three microns in size.

"We were able to monitor moment by moment the formation of an ice crystal, at nanoscale resolution and under atmospherically relevant conditions," said co-author Daniel Knopf, an EMSL user from Stony Brook University in a press release.

"Doing so and knowing that this process is replicated a million times, resulting in a cloud visible to the naked eye, is tremendously exciting and a huge step forward for our predictive understanding of cloud formation with important ramifications for climate."

As emphasized by the scientists, the conditions to which a cloud is born, especially the chemistry of airborne particles greatly affects the Earth. As what it had been doing for millennia, clouds reflect the sun's light, keeping the planet cool and absorbing Earth's heat and radiation.

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