Amazing video of a bizarre, twisting, dancing cloud

By Phil Plait | October 25, 2011 7:00 am

A couple of months ago, BAbloggee Henrik Magnus Ulriksen sent me a link to a video of a cloud that frankly left me — har har — twisting in the wind. When I saw it, I had the strong feeling it was authentic; taken with a hand-held camera, it doesn’t look obviously faked. But what it shows is very odd indeed.

The video is of a cumulonimbus cloud, a puffy white cauliflower-shaped cloud that forms when warm air rises rapidly. The camera view is between two buildings, and you can see the puffy cloud top just below the center of the frame. Keep your eye on the little wisp of cloud just above the cumulonimbus, right in the middle of the frame.

Did you see it? If it helps, the picture here shows you where to look. Starting at 9 seconds in, that little wisp suddenly snaps into a new shape, as if someone had stopped the video, waited for the cloud to change, then started up the video again. But it’s clear that’s not what’s going on; the video is smooth with no transitions.

Assuming the video is real, I had a sneaky suspicion it had to do with the electric currents generated inside the cloud, the same currents that create lightning. Clouds can carry huge electric potentials — essentially, the ability to move charges around — and that stored energy can be suddenly released, creating lightning. When that happens, the electric field resets itself, and starts to store up energy again.

But I had no clue how that would make the cloud appear to dance like that!

As it happens, by coincidence, I met Joel Gratz at the TEDxBoulder talk in September. Joel is a meteorologist who runs websites like Open Snow and Colorado Powder Forecast. I sent him the video, and sure enough a short while later he had a reply for me.

Joel had sent the video to Walter Lyons, a meteorologist from WeatherVideoHD, who was able to identify this phenomenon. Here’s his reply:

The answer lies in this: ice crystals, especially long needles, tend to become aligned with the ambient electric field.

So what you are seeing is sunlight reflecting off ice crystal faces that are constantly being oriented by the developing electric field just above the [cumulonimbus] top. Then there is a discharge in the cloud, and the field collapses momentarily, and the crystals begin to realign again. Then this just keeps happening over and over.

Aha! I hadn’t thought of that. The outer surface of ice crystals can hold a static electric charge, similar to what happens when you rub a glass rod with a cloth, or rub a balloon on your hair and stick it to the wall. When placed in an electric field, the charges feel a force on them, and align themselves along the field. So all the ice crystals above that cloud top are aligned one way in the field. Then the field snaps (maybe due to lightning releasing the energy) and then reforms. The ice crystals change their orientation suddenly when that happens.

So why does it look like the entire shape is changing? That’s because ice crystals can act like little prisms, bending light when it passes through them (or they can act like mirrors, with light reflecting off their flat surfaces). When they float in the air you get all sorts of astounding and beautiful formations like sun dogs, halos, sun pillars, and more. These all depend on the angle between you, the Sun, and the orientation of the crystal in between.

[UPDATE: Bill Beatty has more videos of this phenomenon. Thanks to @MattTheTube for the tip.]

In this case, some of the ice crystals are bending light toward the camera, and when the field snaps they rearrange themselves. Think of them like little flashlights, some pointed at you, some away. When the field changes, they all turn, so different ones are pointed at you, and ones that were pointed at you are now turned away. That’s what happens when the field suddenly changes. The overall shape of the cloud hasn’t changed; you’re just seeing the light coming from it differently!

I want to take a moment here and relay the fact that this is one of the coolest things I have ever heard. That video is truly bizarre (I’ve seen more than one website — the kind that talks about "chemtrails" seriously — touting it as some sort of government conspiracy), It shows something I had never seen before, or even dreamed of. Mind you, I’m pretty familiar with the sky; I spend a lot of time looking at it. So this was pretty weird. Then to get an explanation that is not only, to me, obviously correct, but also so simple, so clean, and so wonderful… well, that’s one of the things I love most about science.

Some people think that science takes away the beauty and wonder of the world, but it doesn’t. It adds to it. It takes something we don’t understand and turns it into something we do. Instead of spinning conspiracy theories, we can use science to help us construct a more accurate, more complete, and more true view of the Universe.

And yes, more beautiful as well. I’ll take the beauty of truth any day of the week. Even a cloudy one.


Related posts:

Science Fare
The pressure of living on a spinning planet
The fist of an angry cloud
What I learned from Carl Sagan

Comments (94)

  1. Georg

    “”The outer surface of ice crystals can hold a static electric charge, similar to what happens when you rub a glass rod with a cloth, or rub a balloon on your hair and stick it to the wall. When placed in an electric field, the charges feel a force on them, and align themselves along the field””

    You do not need that charge on the outer surface!
    Look up “electrostatic induction” or more educated
    “influence”! Any elongated object with some conductivity
    will align to an electric field.
    In electrostatics this is demonstrated with small paper strips
    rotating about needles.
    Georg

  2. Weird looking cloud indeed. I wondered if it might be an insect or spider moving in front – an illusion created by perspective, angle of viewing and spiderweb or silk catching the light? Or maybe something to do with polarisation and something changing the polarity or focus (Not quite right word?) of the rays of light hitting the small central cloud.

    I wouldn’t have guessed it but that ice crystals and static charges explanation is much better & stranger than I’d expected. :-)

    Some people think that science takes away the beauty and wonder of the world, but it doesn’t. It adds to it. It takes something we don’t understand and turns it into something we do. Instead of spinning conspiracy theories, we can use science to help us construct a more accurate, more complete, and more true view of the Universe. And yes, more beautiful as well.

    Seconded by me & well said. ;-)

    Although, there is a certain extent to which beauty – and truth too – are in the eye of the beholder at least for some things.

    Given the way science is constantly refining and surprising us I’d be wary of claiming absolute “truth” for almost all things we think we know as better explanations may arise later on. Seems to me that there are some things we are 90% sure about, others 99% and yet others even 99.999% but there’s still that 0.001% “missing” and there are usually exceptions and other ways of seeing that add to the picture so .. hmm… Too late at night for me to be too philosophical.

  3. Pete Jackson

    Sorry, post duplicated while editing. (see below)

  4. ddr

    Clearly there is a UFO hiding in the cloud and the rapid movement of the cloud is in response to the craft powering up its star drive. This is the only thing it could possibly be and I reject your well thought out, scientific, and evidence based conclusion.

  5. Pete Jackson

    Great catch, Phil! You’ve shown all of us something to look for the next time a thunderstorm approaches.

    Notice how a bright arc goes right through (in front?) of the cloud at the left at 1:04

  6. Pepijn

    Phil, the WeatherVideoHD link is broken…

  7. mark

    Yeah, that seems like a reasonable explaination, but that hypothesis doesn’t explain the presence of the dog in the lower right of the frame.

  8. Peter Davey

    To quote a well-known Victorian philosopher:

    “To him who’s scientific, there is nothing that’s terrific in the falling of a flight of thunderbolts.”

  9. Chris P

    It’s obviously an alien ship with a faulty cloaking device.

    (I haven’t read the youtube comments but I would be surprised if this explanation wasn’t put forward there.)

  10. That_Guy

    ddr has utterly refuted your silly claim, this is now settled. Having to read all of your “science” mumbo jumbo has made me late for my Peter Popov/ Richard Hoagland duet concert!

  11. Thameron

    Science does not add nor does it subtract from any beauty in the world all it does is make the model of reality more accurate or more complete. Beauty is an emotional, and in many cases highly individual, interpretation of physical stimuli. Just because YOU find science beautiful does not mean everybody does.

  12. Man, this beats any UFO video I ever saw for sheer mind-bending weirdness. And it’s real. Forget swamp gas—it’s all about ice crystals. Seeing this in person would make me wonder if I was having a neurological episode.

  13. Cootiio

    Hey awesome! Thanks to me following the link to Youtube and perusing the related videos on the right, I am now acquainted with HAARP. Here are the tags that were associated with the video I watched, I thought they were fun.

    haarp clouds seeding scalar waves ring elenin poleshift manipulation sky crazy
    orb september god particle phenomena lights amazing ron paul dutchsinse 10-26-11 10-25-11 illuminati skies cloud formation rainbow pole shift in action
    radar man made earth sun rays chembow chemtrail news storm weather crop circles alex jones ufo alien nibiru aliens forecast project blue beam Wettermanipulation modification cnn two suns sunset sundog space moon above 2011 funny proof meteor relax sunrise

  14. Cool.

    At first, I was thinking “micro-bursts”, like those that (used to?) crash planes on landing.

    Of course, “exhaust from alien spacecraft” sounds better. :-)

    (I need to keep a video camera close at all times. There was one beautiful shot I could have taken of a cumulonimbus cloud just around sunset. It was still a bright white due to its altitude, and grew steadily, even to the naked eye without any “time lapse video”.)

  15. haveblue

    My guess, before reading your theory, was that it was a reflection off something on the ground. A mechanical object briefly rotating could cause a very rapid change in the light cast on the cloud.

  16. @Georg (#1) Conduction isn’t even needed. If the dielectric susceptibility of the needles is higher than that of air, they will orient themselves parallel to the field.

  17. Chris A.

    @Thameron (#9):
    “Just because YOU find science beautiful does not mean everybody does.”

    Does someone need a hug?

  18. Rick White in TX

    That video is certainly cool, weird, amazing, and beautiful. My first thought, as I was watching it, was that it had something to do with electicity in the clouds plus reflectivity of the clouds. But I didn’t think about the alignment of ice crystals. Just too, too cool.

  19. Chris

    Kudos to him for even noticing this. So many people now are only looking at their cellphones they don’t even notice what is going on overhead.

    @11. Thameron
    “Science does not add nor does it subtract from any beauty in the world all it does is make the model of reality more accurate or more complete. Beauty is an emotional, and in many cases highly individual, interpretation of physical stimuli. Just because YOU find science beautiful does not mean everybody does.”

    Did you just enter graduate school and realize not everything can be modeled as a spherical cow in a vacuum?

  20. BethK

    Very cool. I thought ice crystals might be involved much like sun dogs, but they were changing so fast in real time. That they are aligned with a changing electrical environment is a great explanation.

    So many of us have phones with cameras that we *can* catch these images if we look up or around us.

    For me, understanding the science enhances the visual beauty of nature.

  21. Gary

    Or it could be some source(s) of focused light projected onto the cloud. Or not. My point is that one bit of evidence — the video — is not enough to confirm one hypothesis over another.

  22. Georg

    @Ralf Muschall right, but conductivity increases the effect a lot.
    Georg

  23. A lovely counterargument to Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” which champions romantic ignorance. To understand that the same forces holding paperclips on my desk can sculpt clouds (never knew that before either, would love to see it myself someday) and plasmas erupting from the surface of the sun is AMAZING. What’s cooler than that?

    I never felt the same about Whitman after reading that poem.

  24. DigitalAxis

    The first thing I did was try to interpret all that as a reflection in the lens- someone wearing white at a nearby table, or something. That didn’t work…

    At least all the clouds in the image are in fact changing shape and size – it’s subtle, but it’s only 1 minute long. For a while I was convinced the clouds (apart from the darker one at the bottom of the frame) were static images.

  25. Jest

    Ah crap… the UFOers are gonna go nuts.

    My first thought was something to do with polarization of light with the camera, but I knew it was probably something else that was fairly simple to explain.

    I’ve heard of people who don’t think water in any form (solid/liquid/gas) is capable of interacting as a result of static. Take a comb, run it through your hair. Turn on the tap in your bathroom, and hold it close to the stream of water. There ya go.

  26. I am not entirely convinced. Are you sure it isn’t just a reflection in the camera’s lens system?

  27. I’m pretty sure you have got this one wrong, Phil.

    I’m not sure about the magnetic field hypothesis… the motion looks just too ‘man-made’. It looks way more like like lighting effects – i.e. a reflection of the sun on some man-made structure on the ground, illuminating different parts of a fine sheet of ice crystals in the cloud.

    If you look early on in the video, you can see 3 equilateral points. You can also see – through much of the video – a horizontal shaft of light emanating from the left (from the same reflection ‘source’).

    Also, the light at some points gets ‘focused’, and therefore much smaller and brighter. If it were ice particles collecting and reflecting the sun, it wouldn’t get this bright.

  28. Jim

    My guess is even more mundane. This video may have been shot through a window. What we are seeing is a reflection of something behind the camera. The reflection is altered when the window flexes. This would work even better if the window were plexiglass instead of silica glass.

    In the 1920’s, a German special effects artist named Eugen Schüfftan developed a process for superimposing one image atop another for movies. This process was used extensively in the classic silent film “Metropolis.” This was before matte paintings and CGI but was still fairly convincing.

    But I could be wrong.

  29. Mark

    Reminds me a bit of how LCDs work.

  30. Yeah, I’m not sure about the electrical stuff. Maybe, but…

    I think an equally plausible solution would be light reflections/refractions off ice crystals with the light source (the sun) off to the left being obscured/unobscured by other niggly little bits of the expanding cumulonimbus cloud that are hidden from us by the brighter cloud in the foreground. I would think shafts of sunlight peeking through constantly changing little canyons and crannies among the cumulonimbus peaks would suffice to do it.

    Either way, tho, cool video! Clouds are bitchin.

  31. Chaneski

    I have to agree with Jim. While it could be any number of things, it did not strike me at all as something happening up in the sky, but something happening closer to the camera. I’ll vote for the mundane window until more evidence arrives.

  32. Jim Pettit

    I have witnessed this more than once in the nascent anvils of quickly-growing thunderstorms here in Florida. I at first thought they were maybe shock waves generated by lightning high in the cloud, as the movements were accompanied within seconds by distant thunder. But some of the “waves” went inward from where there was no lightning, so I finally guessed–correctly, as it turns out–that it was an electrical phenomenon in the icy anvils themselves. As Jesse Pinkman would say, “Yeah! Science!”

  33. Pepijn

    The moment I saw it, I thought: “electrical effect”. I don’t understand why so many people here don’t want to accept the electromagnetic field explanation. It’s extremely simple and plausible. You already know that lightning exists, and that it is made of electricity. Why is it so hard to believe that there are changing electromagnetic fields around clouds at moments when it isn’t shooting a lightning bolt, and that ice crystals might align themselves along these fields?

  34. Jim Pettit

    Here’s another video of the same phenomenon from farther away:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAGE9f0K1Q

  35. JMW

    …It shows something I had never seen before, or even dreamed of. Mind you, I’m pretty familiar with the sky; I spend a lot of time looking at it. So this was pretty weird…

    That’s what you silly astronomers get for thinking clouds are nothing more than impediments to your work… :)

  36. My first inclination was something to do with the electricity generated in those storms. So the crystals are just reorienting themselves in a field? That’s so cool. :)

  37. Pepijn asked:

    I don’t understand why so many people here don’t want to accept the electromagnetic field explanation. It’s extremely simple and plausible.

    Yes, it is simple and plausible. But perhaps there are other even simpler and more plausible solutions too. This is the comment section of an internet site, after all. Some of us like to chatter.

  38. Merennulli

    Beauty and wonder are very much extensions of curiosity. Claiming science takes that away is symptomatic of people who hate the rigor of science but don’t understand that it’s the very root of why we find these things wondrous.

  39. Tim G

    The witness posted more here. Another videographer captured the same phenomenon here.

    It’s amazing to think that what is contained in a seemingly empty box can produce a wide range of weird phenomenon.

  40. Pete Jackson

    @20BethK: Yes, I was thinking just the same thing, that it is a case of rapidly varying sundog phenomena. Sundogs (bright areas in a sky containing ice crystals) occur at an angular distance of roughly 22 degrees from the sun, and it looks like the sun is fairly close in the sky in the video, off to the left behind the thin cloud and window frame. Sundog strength definitely depends on the orientation of the ice crystals and strong electric fields near thunderstorm could definitely change these orientations quite rapidly.

  41. ceramicfundamentalist

    i’m glad i read this explanation before i saw something like this in real life myself – i’d have gone a bit nuts trying to come up with a rational explanation before i realized the orientation of ice crystals might be affected by electrical fields.

  42. alfaniner

    My impression also is that it is a reflection from something on the ground. However, that does not take away from the beauty of it, and a lot of the fun is trying to figure out what really caused it.

  43. Jeff

    yes,

    every term I show the students a demo where a electric potential (and thus a strong electric field) is created across an acrylic case fill with oil and some type of straw-like fragments (thousands or millions of them).

    If the potential is applied uniformly across the acrylic, like a parallel plate capacitor, the straw alings in parallel straight lines perpendicular to these plates.

    If the potential is applied at a dipole +/- pair of points at opposite ends of the apparatus, the straw aligns along the curves characteristic of a dipole field.

    it is very interesting this cloud acts like this for the ice crystals. Clouds like this are very electrically charged.

  44. constantine

    It’s a glitch in the matrix

  45. JohnS

    Not weird at all. Almost everyday of the year there is a cloud formation like that on Mt. Rainier

  46. Kim

    The phenomenon is called Crown Flash. I’ve already read about it some time ago at Ceticismo Aberto (in portuguese, “Open Skepticism”). You can check the first article here, with lots of lower quality videos. It’s in portuguese, Google Translate it!
    http://www.ceticismoaberto.com/ufologia/6222/novo-fenocircmeno-natural-faz-luzes-danccedilarem-no-ceacuteu

    There’s a followup where he found out that there was already a name for the phenomenon here:
    http://www.ceticismoaberto.com/fortianismo/6286/novo-fenmeno-natural-tem-nome-crown-flash

    There’s an english version here:
    http://forgetomori.com/2011/science/a-new-natural-phenomenon-crown-flash/

  47. Phil, I can’t see the embedded video. Perhaps others too? Could you please put a link to the source? Thanks.

  48. Alex Murdoch

    It’s nice to know that I can still learn new things everyday, that was a really cool video.

  49. CWorthington

    Sweet! When I saw the vid, I suspected it was changes in the reflection of the light on the cloud. But I didn’t think of it being caused by static! That is so awesome!

    And I love nature and the world the more knowledgeable I become about how it works. I can’t imagine a tree being more beautiful by NOT knowing the amazing methods of water movement the tree employs and why. Or how sandstone forms,or diamonds. Or… well, I could go on for quite a bit about the beauty I see that is enhanced by the knowledge I have.

    I am going to be looking for these flickery clouds now. Thanks!

  50. Be sure not to miss the 2002 paper about this: tinyurl.com/y9cdcaj

    Back in 2002 they were dealing with odd cloud phenomena seen on radar. Apparently the sudden shifts in ice crystals will turn up in microwave reflections. Now with youtube we have the optical version turning up in all sorts of videos.

    Note that the paper above says that, for full alignment of suspended crystals, you only need a field of 10 volts per cm!

    Hmmm, remember the “sundog-eating space launch” with the odd stripes of white light following the changes? They attributed this to oscillating crystals. But crystals shouldn’t oscillate, Reynolds number is too low! Maybe those stripes were caused by distortion of the usual vertical clear-weather e-fields. How conductive is the rocket exhaust, how high the density of mobile ions? Maybe a missle launch is electrically similar to building a metal tower 20KM tall.

    PS

    If you suspend ferromagnetic powder in liquid, then hold it in collimated light and wave a magnet around, *very* similar arcs of light are seen. The powder grains assemble into little fibers which reflect light much the same as crystal needles.

    PPS

    The subsun! That bright “UFO” which commonly follows aircraft, always hovering in the ice-crystal clouds directly below the sun? This all suggests that storm-electrostatic fields can bias the position of the subsun, moving it off its normal position’ converting it into a true UFO. If a brilliant glow should suddenly dart at your plane, then slowly retreat …should you stay quiet about it? :)

  51. Jeff

    these events remind me a lot of auroraes which are also directed by electromagnetic fields.

  52. DrBB

    @44 Constantine: I had a distinct sensation of deja vu looking at the video. Confirmed!

  53. @ Kim:

    Thanks for the links!

    Okay, I’m convinced! (You can all rest easy now.)

  54. Geack

    @ Chris and others –

    While you guys are right that this one video doesn’t provide enough evidence to make the conclusion Phil presents reliable, you seem to miss the point that this is NOT a new phenomenon to the meterologist who explained it – it’s just new to Phil and us readers. It’s clearly something that has been studied and explained in pretty thorough detail.

  55. I agree, coolest atmospheric phenomenon I have ever seen too!

  56. katwagner

    Hey @26 Marco. That was no lens flare. Lens flare doesn’t dance – very cool video and I’m so happy I get to come here and learn stuff. The more I learn, the more beautiful it all becomes. Our brains are expanding universes!

  57. Joseph G

    That is so cool!!!!
    The speed of the shift reminds me of those liquid crystal “smart windows” that can shift between “frosted” and clear in response to a small current. And come to think of it, the mechanism isn’t all that different :)

  58. ¡Que hermoso! espero poder verlo en la vida real algún día y explicarselo a mi hijo. Hay tantas cosas allá afuera que no podemos explicar, y cuyas explicaciones tal vez sean igual de sencillas y elegantes.

  59. Ray Burge

    Sorry Guys but it appears to be nothing more the a cloud viewed though a piece of Plexy glass from below with water on top of the plexy bieng manipulated by air…… but it does look cool.

  60. Maria

    Aw man. Stuff like this is why I look up all the time – to the point of walking into things. I’ve seen this before in the prairies a few years ago. It was mesmerizing to the point I stopped what I was doing and just stared.

    But at no point did i think, “Oh my gods! It’s aliens/chemtrails/government secret energy weapons/the flying spaghetti monster’s throne/angels.”

    All I thought was “Wow. That’s fracking breathtaking. I wonder how it’s happening?” and left it at that; with the conviction that one day I would find out! Just like I found out about sun dogs, green flashes, auroras, mammatus clouds … I also don’t know how people leap so easily when nature is astounding all on it’s own.

  61. Shalev

    I didn’t realize that the electrical and magnetic fields in a cloud would be so lively, until they were illustrated this way. It’s a bit like an iodine tracer for the electromagnetic activity in the clouds, no? Lightning is powerful, of course, but somehow I had never pictured all the power inside the clouds moving like that.

    I agree that science beats the pants off of any kind of made-up superstition… The underlying reality is always so much more wondrous and involving than the merely human explanation. :)

  62. Tim

    My first thought was that the area was right on the edge of some atmospheric pressure boundary and that the water in the air was rapidly changing from one state to another with subtle fluctuations in pressure.

    The actual explanation is much cooler.

    Kind of reminds me of Smart Glass (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_glass). This is glass which is transparent when a voltage is applied, but turns opaque when the charge is removed (or switches when the current is applied – depending on the type). One of the few things I learned about from CSI.

  63. steppedleader

    Cool video! This phenomena has been known for quite some time — the first paper I know of on it is almost 50 years old (Vonnegut, B., 1965: Orientation of ice crystals in the electric field of a thunderstorm. Weather, 20, 310­-312.), but I didn’t realize it was ever so clearly visible!

  64. Messier Tidy Upper

    @2 MTU :

    Given the way science is constantly refining and surprising us I’d be wary of claiming absolute “truth” for almost all things we think we know as better explanations may arise later on. Seems to me that there are some things we are 90% sure about, others 99% and yet others even 99.999% but there’s still that 0.001% “missing” and there are usually exceptions and other ways of seeing that add to the picture so .. hmm… Too late at night for me to be too philosophical.

    What my sleep deprived mind was getting at there was how all scientific truth is provisional; subject to further review, possible questioning and further study that can shed more light on it. Plus a few other epistemological issues regarding what is truth and reality. A whole other field of discussion again really.

    @52. Bill Beaty :

    Hmmm, remember the “sundog-eating space launch” with the odd stripes of white light following the changes? They attributed this to oscillating crystals. But crystals shouldn’t oscillate, Reynolds number is too low! Maybe those stripes were caused by distortion of the usual vertical clear-weather e-fields. How conductive is the rocket exhaust, how high the density of mobile ions? Maybe a missle launch is electrically similar to building a metal tower 20KM tall.

    Sure do! That was one of the most spectacular, marvellous and coolest things I’ve ever seen on this blog which is really saying something! ;-)

    That was the SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) launch in February 2010 which folks can see again (or for the first time if you missed it before) here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/02/17/rocket-launch-blows-away-the-sky/

    via this blog or see it directly on Youtube here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsDEfu8s1Lw&feature=player_embedded

    Whilst NASA later used that spectacular incident to make a new discovery :

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sdo/news/sundog-mystery.html

    regarding ice haloes too. :-)

    (BTW. The video in that last link shows the sundog – or parhelion as its technically known – getting blown away from a different angle again.)

  65. Hendi (DG3HDA)

    LCD ? Sort of, but I prefer comparing it to DLP as used in video beamers: An array of tiny mirrors, actuated by the same force – an eelectric(tm) field, directing more or less light to the screen.

  66. JB of Brisbane

    @Thameron #11 – you wouldn’t happen to be a Vulcan by any chance, would you?

  67. Infinite123Lifer

    Phil said:
    “As it happens, by coincidence, I met Joel Gratz at the TEDxBoulder talk in September.”

    Phil, as I have no evidence that coincidence is either real or not real I will simply ask some questions :) (please don’t hit me)

    Is it by coincidence that things do not fall off of the Earth? Or can the lack of falling off be explained by gravitational effects?

    Is it by coincidence that copper is a good conductor of electricity? Or is it because the characteristics of a copper atom make it so?

    Is it by coincidence that the sky appears blue to us? Or is it because the atmosphere consists of gases and because of something we call Rayleigh scattering?

    Is it by coincidence that certain radiation carries certain energy? Or does that energy depend on the wavelength and frequency of the wave?

    Is it by coincidence that the cloud above emitted a seemingly “odd” light display? Or is it because ice crystals tend to become aligned with the ambient electric field?

    I could go on and on with this stuff but seeing that I am here in good faith, good spirits and hopefully good investigating I think those questions have served their purpose. Next and don’t hit me :)

    y axis(mans ignorance/unknowing/unseeing)
    |……….
    |…………….
    |………………….
    |………………………….
    | ……………………………….
    |………………………………………
    |…………………………………………………
    |…………………………………………………………..
    ________________________________._______x axis
    (wisdom/knowledge/scientific reasoning)
    (awe it took the spaces out, so much for trying to be sneaky and get a graph in there, the only dots that were meant to be remarkable are the last dot to the left in each line to show a trend)

    If we assign the ignorance (wish I had a better word, the word ignorant is largely received with negativity) of man to the y-axis and the knowledge of man to the x-axis and take a look at y as x approaches infinity I think it is safe to say (without having an actual equation) that as the knowledge of man increases our ignorance decreases. I would probably argue that there is an asymptote at y=0 and thus our knowledge can never increase to a level that we have absolute zero ignorance. (please don’t hit me or take my internets :) )

    However, if we could access ALL knowledge and cross that boundary of ignorance, would we not see an explanation for ALL things?

    Phil also said:

    “Some people think that science takes away the beauty and wonder of the world, but it doesn’t. It adds to it. It takes something we don’t understand and turns it into something we do. Instead of spinning conspiracy theories, we can use science to help us construct a more accurate, more complete, and more true view of the Universe.”

    Could there be a scientific reasoning for purpose, destiny and fate? Perhaps the science behind “how” you came to meet Joel Gratz is yet to be discovered. As you said yourself “It takes something we don’t understand and turns it into something we do.”

    For thousands of years people have not understood the phenomena of nature. Science brings into light “how” some of these phenomena can be explained and although believing “that there is no such thing as coincidence” is generally a theologian viewpoint I beg you to consider that it is also a scientific viewpoint.

    Definition of coincidence (per wikipedia):

    “A coincidence is an event notable for its occurring in conjunction with other conditions, e.g. another event. As such, a coincidence occurs when something uncanny, accidental and unexpected happens under conditions named, but not under a defined relationship. When there are no conditions named, the event is just that single entity. The word is derived from the Latin cum- (“with”, “together”) and incidere (a composed verb from “in” and “cadere”: “to fall on”, “to happen”). In science, the term is generally used in a more literal translation, e.g., referring to when two rays of light strike a surface at the same point at the same time. In this usage of coincidence, there is no implication that the alignment of events is surprising, noteworthy or non-causal.
    A coincidence does not prove a causal or any other modal relationship nor require any such. In the field of mathematics, the index of coincidence can be used to analyze whether two events are related. Such index does not define any relationship, but just describes some possibility of such. Physically related events may be expected to have a higher probability to occur, probability is the basic metrics, or method, to rationally evaluate physical coincidences.
    From a statistical perspective, coincidences are inevitable and often less remarkable than they may appear intuitively.”

    I admit that the word coincidence as you have used it is entirely correct and even though the “science” behind these relationships is far from being understood (another understatement of the year) I would tend to think that most scientists could explain away our misunderstanding of events as “science yet to be discovered” where every event is remarkable. (no really. . . don’t take my internets :) )

    “A coincidence does not prove a causal or any other modal relationship nor require any such. In the field of mathematics, the index of coincidence can be used to analyze whether two events are related. Such index does not define any relationship, but just describes some possibility of such.”

    Whether there is a scientific reason that you happened to meet Joel and not just by random chance remains to be understood but I am game for theoretical reasoning. I also would not suggest that instead of saying “by coincidence” you say “for some grand scientific reasoning of which we don’t understand yet” ;)

    As far as we know it was indeed by coincidence . . . but still . . . I am here to question and am skeptical that things; all things, happen by chance. I am still a believer that chance has no reality at all. Only reality has reality and that reality has indeed no coincidences.

    I am in over my head here :) ( and perhaps over everybody’s head with my abstract reasoning and sloppy writing )and after reading the definition I really think Phil’s wording is entirely correct. I am not seeking a change in Phil’s vernacular or trying to cause an uproar. . . I am just saying because:

    “a coincidence occurs when something uncanny, accidental and unexpected happens under conditions named, but not under a defined relationship.”

    we cannot define the relationship does not mean one does not exist. Any scientist can second that I think.

    You may now take my internets and commence to my beating :)

    P.S. I was writing this at 2am when my computer got zapped and I lost the entire document. I was compelled to wake up and try again today. But last night there I was asking…”was it by coincidence that I lost my coincidence report or . . .”

    :)

    And great post, I enjoyed it.

  68. Infinite123Lifer

    Er. . . edit post 70

    The only dots remarkable are the last ones to the Right.
    And a horizontal asymptote at y=0
    And though I think understanding increases beauty; some say ignorance is bliss.

    And you can hit me but please dont take my internets. I need them for stuff.

    And a big hug for 11.

    :)

  69. Infinite123Lifer

    Did anyone notice at 39 seconds in that with the sound turned up you can hear it!!!!!!!!

    I wonder if it was really audible on the ground or if something else on the ground just happened to make the sound I associate with the cloud.

    That is truly wierd

  70. CR

    @Maria (62) Regarding the ‘leap’ people make over ‘unusual’ atmospheric phenomena: I couldn’t have said it better myself! (Also, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who loves viewing the sky to the point of distraction sometimes!)

  71. Wow – good to see that my video got a reference. Can categorically state that this was an authentic video, which I took. Was very weird – and really got my spooked – so luckily I recorded it else no one would have believed me – hahaha :)

  72. DennyMo

    My first thought was that the clouds were right at the threshold for phase change, and we were seing frequent and rapid transitions between vapor and liquid in the clouds due to temp and pressure variations. The electrical explanation makes more sense, though.

  73. Infinite123Lifer

    @75. Aaron Brigatti:

    I am curious. . . I read all the comments here and the original post. I did not see where anybody noticed the sounds of the video. It is indeed very rare when I notice something Phil and the educated folk here at BA did not.

    I am really really curious; could you HEAR it from the ground?

    Clearly at 39 seconds in there is a snapping sound that correlates to the clouds crystals “popping” in and out of alignment.

    Great video by the way. Here in WA with all the clouds and all the time I have spent watching them I think I would have noticed this phenomenon before! Awesome catch! But really, could you hear it, because the video sure as heck caught the sound! :)

  74. Messier Tidy Upper

    @75. Aaron Brigatti : Congrats, great video. Well done and thanks for sharing it with us all. :-)

  75. Jana

    Working with liquid crystal molecules and switching them via electricity (it’s a similar process to the one proposed here), I can say the speed of the different movements and the shapes that form resemble what I see all the time.

    If you could find a way to get all the ice crystals aligned perfectly, you could use the electric field to make a “bright white wall” (reflection) of cloud to become transparent and back again.

  76. Jeff Wright

    It does look like a droplet of water perhaps being mashed a bit by a lens element moving up against protective glass in the camera. Not that such phenomena don’t exist–sprites are real–but this just looks like a bead of water that got in a camera…

  77. Infinite123Lifer

    So nobody listened at 39 seconds and heard the sound of ice crystals aligning??? :(

    Phil?

  78. James

    Finally! I saw this phenomenon in 2002 over Rome and had a difficult time finding an answer ever since. Not the best images, but here’s what I saw: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdrh/310901265/in/photostream

  79. jeric15

    Look at my comment in youtube…

    It was all plain CLOUD BREAKER device! Nothing unusual… :)

  80. 77. Infinite123Lifer: your question about the sound. Actually the sounds are the noises from the swimming pool (you can hear kids talking/screaming in the backdrop etc) – I was near the jet-pool hence the ‘gushing’ noise.

    Hope this helps – I “don’t think” the sounds came from the skies…ha!

  81. Chris C

    This cannot be “an electrical charge”. The thing hit a fence, WHICH IS GROUNDED, so would dissipate immeditely. Looks a bit like Aero gel, although i can’t imagine wherre you would find that. Not a natural phenomenon

  82. Chris C

    Sorry my comment was directed at “weird cloud falls to ground”

  83. Serena

    The irregularity occurs within a perfect square in the centre of the frame. It’s the camera’s auto-focus seeking a positive target.

  84. Flieg

    I just looked out my back window and saw a sundog in high cirrus clouds that was varying in brightness by several orders of magnitude (from dim to eye-watering) in the time period of a few seconds. Since there was no thunderstorm in the vicinity, I suspect that what I was seeing was only the variation in orientation and concentration of the ice-crystals in the section of cloud that was in the correct position to refract, as the bank of cirrus was moving relatively rapidly.

    The effect was startling, and did not have the “snap”-like changes observed in this video, but it seems to me that even those could be due to simple turbulence above the thunderhead.

  85. fred

    I tried reading through all the comments, but I am missing something in this article and any explanations.

    How come ice doesn’t weigh enough to fall out of the cloud? Is this special ice made of helium or something? Can I expect ice to stay above us? If so, shouldn’t we be making ice planes since apparently they can avoid gravity? LOO… I am just kidding, but seriously, why? How is ice not falling out of the air onto the ground? Is it constantly melting and evaporating instantly and re-ascending?

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