Clouds have fired human curiosity since eons. Greek philosopher Aristotle first wrote about them in Meteorologica, but Hanuman today got his first answers on what they are
It was a dull grey afternoon. The overcast sky was sending constant warnings of rain.
His mother had strictly forbidden Hanuman to venture out. So he was at Professor Tung Tang’s place munching at a bowl of peanuts, his legs wide apart on the floor just in front of a window.
He was staring at the trees outside swaying in the slight wind.
“It must be fun to be a cloud. You can wander around and watch the world,” he said wistfully.
Professor Tung Tang who was experimenting with one of his musical instruments looked up and smiled.
“Yes, and there are no studies. Fun it must be. Besides, it must be wonderful to be playing with the hot and the cold winds up there racing with it as it moves”.
Hanuman nodded his head, his eyes rolling at the imagined game.
“But dear, you have to be prepared to gobble up a lot of water that the hot earth sends up as water vapour and throw it out when you cannot take any more,” Professor explained about clouds, putting down his musical instrument.
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“It must be light and flighty to float so high above,” Hanuman threw a handful of peanuts into his mouth.
“Oh no dear, clouds can be very heavy. They can be as heavy as a hundred elephants. That means there are millions of litres of water floating above your head.”
“So, how does that much weight stay afloat?” Hanuman insisted.
“That’s because the weight is spread out into millions of droplets over a really big space.
“”Some of the droplets are so small that you would need a million of them to make a single raindrop,” saidthe professor, rising to make his way to the kitchen to pour some coffee from his flask.
“But dear, you have to be prepared to gobble up a lot of water that the hot earth sends up as water vapour and throw it out when you cannot take any more,” Professor explained about clouds, putting down his musical instrument
“But professor, if water is all that the clouds consist, how are they so different—some black, some white?” Hanuman asked, finishing the last peanut lying on his stomach, supporting his face on his hands.
“That depends on the manner in which water vapour changes to liquid water leading clouds to form, how high they are and what they consist of.
“When the weather is cold and warm moist air blows in horizontally, clouds are formed like a thick blanket across the sky.
“They are generally smoother looking and called stratus clouds. If the same thing happens near the ground, it forms fog.
“When warm moist air moves upwards in a small region,clouds that form are puffy and spread out, and called cumulus clouds.They are formed very low, even as low as 2,000 ft.
“Dark clouds seen during thunderstorms are called nimbus clouds. Thin wispy clouds seen high in the sky and looking like balls of cotton torn apart are cirrus clouds.
“They are thin because they are made of ice crystals instead of water droplets. They are formed very high up, above 15,000 ft and signal a fine weather.”
Hanuman listened, his face turned towards the sky, trying to imagine the different types of clouds. It was one of his rare days of concentration.
While clouds have been studied from their looks since the times of Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote Meteorologica, our cloud names come from a 1700s amateur meteorologist, Luke Howard.
Today, however, satellites that we have sent to space send us information about the clouds which help us study them.
Hanuman was already on his journey among the clouds, making friends with them and trying to find his own type of cloud.
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Archita specialises in science communication, and in this series she has created for children, she uses three fictional characters, Hanuman, a bit of an imp, his elder sister Kiran and Professor Tung Tang, a scientist who meddles in musical instruments.