NASA GLOBE Clouds Winter Update

December/January/February 2020-2021

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

Did you know that clouds have names? 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. 

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.

Meet an Expert: Steffi Walthall


Illustrator and former NASA Intern: Full-time freelance illustrator that works primarily in the fields of Children's Publishing (HarperCollins, Scholastic), Education (Pearsons, Kingfisher), and Editorial illustration (NYT, New Yorker).

Question: Where are you from?

Answer: I'm from Chesapeake, Virginia but I recently relocated to Sterling, Va near Washington, D.C.

Question: How was your experience as an intern at the GLOBE Annual Meeting in 2019?

Answer: It was honestly amazing. I met so many people and so many kids and teens who were passionate about science. Everyone was so friendly and fun and hard working. It's something I think about incredibly fondly!

Question: How does your poster (the science process poster) reflect the culture of GLOBE?

Answer: This poster was a reflection of what I saw at the 2019 GLOBE Annual Meeting. There were kids and adults from all different countries and with different language barriers that came together as strangers and left with long time friendships because of science. 

Question: How did you merge the science process with your artwork in the poster?

Answer: Art, like the science process, is a lot of trial and error as well as asking questions and problem solving. In creating the new poster we asked a lot of questions (what does this new poster need, how much space do we have, where will x thing go?). From there we developed a fluid plan- a sketch/hypothesis of how things could work without fully committing. We made observations of other posters/material that GLOBE and other science programs had to see what they included and get more ideas. Then we tried a lot of different things in actually designing the poster and making the illustrations, going back to our observations and research when needed. At the end of it all, the poster was submitted and shared with people everywhere!

Question: What do you think is unique about the GLOBE program?

Answer: How broadly accessible it is and how willing the coordinators are to making it available to anyone who asks, regardless of where they are from. I've never seen an education program before GLOBE so willing to reach out to people at such a massive level. 

Question: What unique perspective can art offer science?

Answer: Art offers this visual component that can help people process information in a creative way that's not just data. Some people are visual learners and seeing something helps to reinforce what they've read or heard. A lot of artists make art of what they see and that counts towards observation, so maybe try drawing your observations too. It might help you remember your results!

Question: What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

Answer: If you're doing art already, you're not aspiring- you are an artist! I'll also say to keep working hard and growing in whatever you choose. We are constantly learning all the time and are constantly getting better when we keep working. Draw from life and your imagination, and don't ever let someone stop you (unless you're drawing on a wall and you're not allowed. Don't do that)!

Cloud Observation Tip: Use Art to Expand Your Observations

Our featured expert for this update, Steffi Walthall, suggests that you draw your observations. You may not have the time to draw, but you can submit photographs with your sky observations. Both drawings and photographs help create memory, especially if it is a unique day of observations. Both can also provide additional information that is not fully captured with the observation. Just as the saying says, a picture is worth a thousand words. All six photographs give people the opportunity to be in your shoes and see your skies. 

The GLOBE Clouds team would like to highlight the work that GLOBE Malta students and teachers have put into merging science and art of clouds. We invite you to view the drawings, paintings, poetry, and reflections done by GLOBE Malta participants during their cloud challenge during summer 2020. 

Science Topic: Ice Halos

Ice halos are a great thing to look for as we enter the winter months in the northern hemisphere. If you are in the southern hemisphere, no worries, you can still see some incredible halos even as you enter the summer months. Halos and other types of similar optical events tend to occur when you have cirrostratus or thin cirrus present!

Tiny ice crystals in the atmosphere create halos by refracting and reflecting the light from the sun or even the Moon. Halos also give us information about the ice crystals inside the clouds. Crystals can be either thin hexagonal plates or six sided columns. The orientation of these plates or columns will result in what we see. Hexagonal plates can create sundogs, arcs, and pillars. Six-sided columns can produce other types of arcs, tangents, and pillars.

Sundogs are one of the most common types of ice halo. They occur when light rays enter the side of an ice crystal and leave through another side inclined about 60 degrees to the first. Sundogs are most easily seen when the Sun is low in the sky. In the image, the sundogs are occurring at either side of the sun at about 22 degrees. The part of a sundog closest to the Sun always forms a layer of red, while greens and blues form beyond that. Sundogs are visible all over the world and at any time of year, regardless of the temperature at the surface. 

Submit your halo photographs and your cloud observations to GLOBE! You can learn more about ice halos at the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day website.


Halos in the Ore Mountains in Saxony, Germany

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