Tag Archives: Cloud

Scientists unravel mystery of 1,100-mile-long cloud forming above Martian volcanoes

The cloud is about 1,118 miles (1,800 kilometers) long and 93 miles (150 km) across. Credit: ESA.

Every year around Mars’ southern solstice, a strange elongated ice cloud forms over the red planet’s surface. The exact nature of this peculiar meteorological phenomenon has been elusive — until recently.

Scientists affiliated with the European Space Agency (ESA) just released a stunning photo of the giant 1,100-mile-long (1,800 km) cloud captured by the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on the Mars Express spacecraft. In doing so, they’ve also figured out how it forms.

Unlocking the secrets of a most curious cloud

The tubular cloud forms and fades daily for about 80 days or so of a Martian year — which lasts about 687 Earth days — stretching from the Arsia Mons volcano to Olympus Mons, which just happens to be the tallest mountain in the solar system.

You might think that the clouds are the result of volcanic eruptions, given the proximity to volcanoes. However, Mars isn’t volcanically active anymore.

That being said, the volcanoes are indeed responsible for forming the elongated Martian cloud, but not in the way you likely imagine.

ESA researchers operating the Mars Express orbiter recorded the cloud in unprecedented detail using the VMC, cheekily nicknamed ‘Mars Webcam’ (it actually only has the resolution of a webcam from the early 2000s), to understand this transient in the cloud.

Originally, VMC was only installed in order to confirm that the Beagle 2 lander had touched down successfully when it separated from Marx Express in 2003. It was subsequently switched off not long after. It was relatively recently that it was reclassified as a camera for science.

“Although it has a low spatial resolution, it has a wide field of view—essential to see the big picture at different local times of day—and is wonderful for tracking a feature’s evolution over both a long period of time and in small time steps. As a result, we could study the whole cloud across numerous life cycles,” Jorge Hernández Bernal, a PhD candidate at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, said in a statement.

The VMC footage was combined with data related to dust storms, as well cloud and dust movements in the Martian atmosphere recorded by instruments onboard NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the Viking 2 missions and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).

The data from Viking 2, which go all the way back to the 1970s, was particularly revealing, showing that the cloud was partially imaged that long ago.

Once all of this data was pooled together, it quickly emerged that the Martian cloud is “orographic” or a “lee” cloud, meaning it forms when the atmosphere is pushed upward by surface features such as mountains — or in this particular case, very tall volcanoes with a leeward slope facing downwind.

As the moist air is forced up the volcano slope before sunrise, it eventually condenses higher up in the atmosphere where it’s much colder. Once the cloud reaches its maximum extent, it’s pushed westwards by high-altitude winds, before evaporating in the late morning when temperatures rise. The cloud only lasts for about two and a half hours, following a self-repeating cycle for 80 days or more every year.

“Although orographic clouds are commonly observed on Earth, they don’t reach such enormous lengths or show such vivid dynamics,” said Agustin Sánchez-Lavega, also of the University of the Basque Country and Science Lead for the VMC. “Understanding this cloud gives us the exciting opportunity to try to replicate the cloud’s formation with models – models that will improve our knowledge of climatic systems on both Mars and Earth.”

The findings were reported in the journal Geophysical Research.

Rain.

Water from thin air: a look at how rain and precipitation forms

When it rains, it pours — but why does it rain in the first place?

Rain.

Image via Pixabay.

Water is a vital part of life on Earth and, luckily for us, it always keeps moving around. There’s always a bit of it floating around in the air as vapor, for example. If enough of it builds up in the atmosphere, it falls as precipitation — most commonly as ‘rain’. It sounds simple enough, but the mechanisms that generate precipitation are actually very complex and finely-tuned. So let’s break them down and see how each part works, and how they fit together.

Water vapor and clouds

Water in puddles, rivers, lakes, or oceans evaporates constantly and builds-up in the atmosphere as vapor. However, there’s only so much water that air can hold, which we call its ‘saturation value’. This value fluctuates with changes in temperature; the warmer the air, the more water it can hold.

Air tends to be warmest near the surface of the Earth and cools down when it rises. As it cools down, its water saturation value drops progressively. At a certain point, it drops enough that the air has to shed water, at which point the vapor starts to condense. This temperature is known as the ‘dew point’. Further cooling will cause excess vapor to condense onto solid surfaces (i.e. dew), or onto condensation nuclei (this forms droplets). These condensation nuclei, or ‘aerosols‘ are tiny particles of various origins (such as dust, fog, pollen, or pollution).

The water droplets formed as air reaches its dew point clump together and scatter incoming sunlight. Our eyes perceive this as white, diffuse clouds. Air masses with little buoyancy relative to the surrounding atmosphere don’t rise very fast, and generate ‘fair wind’ clouds. Air that’s very buoyant compared to its surrounding atmosphere rises rapidly and much higher, forming thick clouds that produce heavy rains. Clouds can also form from the cooling and condensation that occurs as air flows over physical obstructions like mountain ranges.

So around this point, we have our clouds all ready to go. Let’s see how it all comes down.

Precipitation

The droplets that create clouds are really, really tiny — about one-hundredth of a millimeter in diameter. They’re so small that they can just remain suspended in the air, essentially floating around freely. However, they’re not motionless: they do move when pushed by air currents. As they do, some collide, growing larger and heavier and start a slow descent through the cloud. They collide with even more droplets on the way, which makes them grow even heavier.

Meteorologists define rain as liquid water drops that have a diameter of at least 0.5 millimeters when they reach ground level. Drops smaller than this are considered drizzle. Drizzle is generally produced by low-level clouds (Stratus clouds) in temperate areas. It’s very thin — drizzle feels like a mist — and forms when there aren’t enough rising air currents to keep small droplets within the cloud.

If the cloud is dense enough that droplets grow to over one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter, they will survive all the way to the ground despite evaporation. This forms ‘warm rain’, which in temperate zones are thin rains. In the tropics, this process leads to heavy rainfall from clouds lower than 5km above ground level.

Clouds.

Image credits Engin Akyurt.

In temperate areas, heavy rains tend to be generated by a process that involves frozen particles. Temperatures at cloud level tend to be below 0ºC, but the droplets remain liquid. However, they do feel the temperature and spend their time in a state known as ‘supercooling‘. In such a state, even a slight disturbance, such as a collision or contact with an aerosol particle causes them to freeze solid almost instantly.

Water vapor condenses faster onto solid ice particles than it does on liquid droplets, so these little bits of ice grow much faster than surrounding drops and fall sooner. They also grow more as they fall. Warmer masses of air closer to the surface melts the ice as it’s falling, and they reach the ground as rain.

Very thick clouds, however, can create hail. The process is largely similar to the one above, with the exception that the ice particles they form are so large that they can’t melt before reaching the ground. Powerful storms can also generate upward winds that yank these falling bits of ice back into the cloud and re-freeze them. The process is repeated several times as the particles fall, grow larger, and are pulled back up. Eventually, they grow too heavy for the wind to affect them any more and fall to the ground as large, layered hailstones.

How air temperature influences things

Hailstones.

Image credits Etienne Marais.

Drizzle can also be produced by thick clouds if the drops that fall out of them go through a very dry and warm layer of air and evaporate until they are less than 0.5mm in diameter. If drops pass through a layer of cold air, you get snow. If the layers of air within the cloud and those between the cloud and the ground alternate between below and above freezing, you get all kinds of precipitation.

Hail, as we’ve seen, can form when drops go through a succession of warm-cold layers. Freezing rain forms in a similar fashion. If a droplet or ice particle falls through a moderate or warm layer of air (enough to make it fully liquid) but hits a very cold layer right above the ground, it becomes supercooled — and freezes right as it hits the cold ground. This coats everything in a thin layer of ice that becomes progressively ticker as more drops fall down. Frozen rains have been known to snap tree limbs and down power lines with the weight of the ice coat.

Fun facts about rain

  • Although raindrops are depicted in the classic teardrop shape, they’re actually dome-shaped as they fall; the bottom is flat due to air resistance.
  • The USGS estimates that one inch of rain per acre is equal to roughly 27,000 gallons (102,206 liters) of water.
  • Mawsynram, a village in Meghalaya, India, receives the most annual rainfall — about 10,000 millimeters of rain per year on average; most of it falls during the monsoon season.
  • Yungay, Chile, is the driest village on Earth, by comparison — around 0.1 mm each year on average.
  • Acid rain forms when pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (some are natural but mostly man-made) bind with water vapor in the atmosphere. The mix is acidic enough to damage organic material, but can also corrode steel and weather stone.
  • While Earth’s rains are made of water drops, other planets have much more exotic rains — boiling sulfuric acid, sideways glass rains, and diamond hailstones are just a few.
Mars.

Some Martian clouds are made of ground-up meteors

Mars has clouds too — but some are formed by falling meteorites, not rain.

Mars.

Rendering of Mars produced using MOLA altimetry data.
Image credits Kevin Gill / Flickr.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder have obtained new insight into the clouds that dot the Red Planet. While these clouds have long been documented in Mars’ middle atmosphere (which begins about 18 miles or 30 kilometers above the surface), little was known about how they form in the thin, dry ‘air’ there.

New research shows that these wispy bodies are actually accumulations of “meteoric smoke”, the icy dust thrown up when meteorites or space debris break up in the planet’s atmosphere.

Dust rain

“We’re used to thinking of Earth, Mars and other bodies as these really self-contained planets that determine their own climates,” said Victoria Hartwick, a graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences (ATOC) and lead author of the new study.

“But climate isn’t independent of the surrounding solar system.”

The most peculiar fact about Mars’ clouds is that they exist. The Big Bang notwithstanding, you can’t make something out of nothing, and clouds subscribe to this rule as well. Down here on Earth, low-lying clouds form on the backs of tiny particles — things like grains of sea salt or dust that get blown high into the air. These act as anchors of sorts for water vapor to condense on, growing into larger and larger drops, forming the large puffs of white or gray you can see from the ground.

To the best of our knowledge, however, that same mechanism doesn’t exist on Mars. There’s no sea salt to be blown up, and even if there was, the atmosphere is less dense so it’s less able to hold particles aloft. So Hartwick’s team turned their attention to meteors.

Around two to three tons of space debris rain down on Mars, on average, every single day, the authors explain. As this material, ranging from meteorites to space dust, comes into contact with the planet’s atmosphere, it starts to burn and break apart. In essence, a torrent of space dust ‘rains’ down on Mars.

So far, the theory seemed plausible — now the team needed to test it. To find out if this dust could generate Mars’ mysterious clouds, the team employed massive computer simulations that attempt to mimic the flows and turbulence of the planet’s atmosphere. After introducing meteors into the simulations, clouds started to appear.

“Our model couldn’t form clouds at these altitudes before,” Hartwick said. “But now, they’re all there, and they seem to be in all the right places.”

The findings are supported by previous research showing that a similar mechanism may help seed clouds near Earth’s poles (where the magnetic shield is weakest), the team explains. However, we shouldn’t expect to see enormous, roiling thunderstorms of cosmic dust above Mars: the clouds Hartwick’s team studied are very thin, “cotton candy-like clouds” explains Space.

“But just because they’re thin and you can’t really see them doesn’t mean they can’t have an effect on the dynamics of the climate,” Hartwick said.

Depending on the area, these clouds could cause temperature swings of up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), the team’s model shows. The findings flesh out our understanding of Martian clouds and could help us better understand how ancient Mars regulated its climate, and how it was able to hold liquid water on its surface.

The paper “High-altitude water ice cloud formation on Mars controlled by interplanetary dust particles” has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Pollen clouds cover south-east USA causing allergy spikes

Nothing reminds you that spring is here quite like the sight of blossoming plants, the warming weather, and the nasty allergies. This week, pollen counts have increased across the US, which may mean that about 50 million Americans will suffer from some combination of a runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, and sneezing as their allergy symptoms ramp up.

Pollen season typically lasts from early to late spring. Pollen is a fine powdery substance, typically yellow, consisting of microscopic grains discharged from plants, trees, and grass. Being extremely lightweight, pollen is easily swept away by the wind which can transport the irritating substance miles away from its source.

While pollen is not actually sperm per se, pollen grains contain cells necessary to transfer the male half of the plant’s DNA to a compatible plant’s female counterparts (like the pistil and female cones). So, in a way, you could say that pollen is plant sperm powder.

In some parts of the US, such as the Midwest and Northeast, the amount of pollen discharged by plants was so great that the sky became covered in a yellow haze.

To get an idea of how much pollen trees can produce at the height of allergy season, watch this viral video showing what happens when a backhoe nudges a pine tree.

https://www.facebook.com/JenniferKaysenHenderson/videos/10215440284067831/

Something similar was caught on camera this week when a falling tree in Hixson, Tennessee, sent billions of pollen particles flying into the air.

During the thick of pollen season, doctors recommend people who are vulnerable to allergies to avoid being outside in the first half of the morning and later in the afternoon. After being outside, people with pollen allergies should shower and wash their hair and clothes. Over-the-counter medications like nasal sprays, antihistamines, and eye drops can also offer some relief.

Credit: Center for Science Education

The types of clouds: everything you need to know

Not all clouds are created equal. Some are puffy and sweet, others are gray and uniform while others still are so erratic and capricious that the human mind starts to see things; bunnies, cows or a nation’s borders.

The different types of clouds are named based on their shape and how high up they hover in the troposphere. For instance, the diagram below provides a quick overview of the most common types of clouds based on altitude.

Credit: Center for Science Education

Credit: Center for Science Education

The three main types of clouds

A cloud is a visible accumulation of minute droplets of wate, ice crystals, or both, suspended in the air. Though they vary in shape and size, all clouds are basically formed in the same way through the vertical of air above the condensation level. Clouds may also form in contact with the ground surface, too. Such a cloud would be known as fog, ice fog, or mist.

The types of clouds can be divided into three levels, each in turn with its own main groups of clouds. All in all, there are ten fundamental types of clouds. Often, you’ll some places simply class clouds as cirrus, stratus, and cumulus because these clouds are the most common and representative for each altitude class.

  • High-level clouds (5-13 km):  cirrocumulus, cirrus, and cirrostratus.
  • Mid-level clouds (2-7 km): altocumulus, altostratus, and nimbostratus.
  • Low-level clouds (0-2 km): stratus, cumulus, cumulonimbus, and stratocumulus.

High-level clouds

Cirrus

Cirrus clouds, El Calafate, Argentina. Credit: Flickr, Dimitry B.

Cirrus clouds, El Calafate, Argentina. Credit: Flickr, Dimitry B.

Cirrus is one of the most common types of clouds that can be seen at any time of the year. They’re thin and wispy with a silky sheen appearance.

This type of cloud is always made of ice crystals whose degree of separation determines how transparent the cirrus is. Besides the filament appearance, cirrus clouds stand out among other types of cloud because they’re often colored in bright yellow or red before sunrise and after sunset, respectively. Cirrus clouds lit up long before other clouds and fade out much later.

Cirrocumulus

Cirrocumulus in Hong Kong. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Cirrocumulus in Hong Kong. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Cirrocumulus clouds are among the most gorgeous out there. These usually form at about 5 km above the surface with small white fluff patterns that spread out for miles and miles over the sky. They’re sometimes called ‘mackerel skies’ because they can sometimes have a grayish color which makes the clouds look a bit like fish scales.

Cirrocumulus clouds exhibit features from both cumulus and cirrus clouds but should not be confused with altocumulus clouds. While the two can look similar, cirrocumulus does not have shading and some parts of altocumulus are darker than the rest. Cirrocumulus cloud comes after cirrus cloud during warm frontal system.

What’s worth keeping in mind about cirrocumulus clouds is that they never generate rainfall (but can mean cold weather) nor do they interact with other types of clouds to form larger cloud structures.

Cirrostratus

Cirrostratus clouds. Credit: Pixabay, jingoba.

Cirrostratus clouds. Credit: Pixabay, jingoba.

Cirrostratus clouds have a sheet-like appearance that can look like a curly blanket covering the sky. They’re quite translucent which makes it easy for the sun or the moon to peer through. Their color varies from light gray to white and the fibrous bands can vary widely in thickness. Purely white cirrostratus clouds signify these have stored misture, indicating the presence of a warm frontal system.

Some of the best cloud pictures involve cirrostratus clouds because the ice crystals beautifully refract light from the sun or moon producing a dazzling halo effect. Cirrostratus clouds can turn into altostratus clouds if these descend to a lower altitude.

As a nice piece of trivia, cirrostratus clouds almost always move in a westerly direction. The sight of them usually means rainfall is imminent in the next 24 hours.

Mid-level clouds

Altocumulus

Altoculumus clouds are sometimes called 'social clouds' because they appear in groups. They have a grayish-white color with some portions darker than the others. Credit: Pixabay, MabelAmber.

Altoculumus clouds are sometimes called ‘social clouds’ because they appear in groups. They have a grayish-white color with some portions darker than the others. Credit: Pixabay, MabelAmber.

Altocumulus clouds form at a lower altitude so they’re largely made of water droplets though they may retain ice crystals when forming higher up.  They usually appear between lower stratus clouds and higher cirrus clouds, and normally precede altostratus when a warm frontal system is advancing. When altocumulus appears with another cloud type at the same time, storm normally follows. Altocumulus clouds are common in most parts of the world.

Altocumulus clouds are quite common in most parts of the globe. They usually grow by convection, in most cases after damp air rises to mix with descending dry air. Altocumulus clouds may also form in combination with other types of clouds like cumulonimbus. The amount of rainfall from altocumulus is projected from light to moderate.

Altostratus

Altostratus clouds spelling a rainy day. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Altostratus clouds spelling a rainy day. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Altostratus often spread over thousands of square miles and are strongly linked to light rain or snow. Though they’re not capable of yielding heavy rain it’s common for altostratus clouds to morph into nimbostratus clouds which are packed with moisture and can deliver a pounding.

They’re uniformly gray, smooth, and mostly featureless which is why they’re sometimes called ‘boring clouds’. You’ll commonly see this types of clouds in an advancing warm frontal system, preceding nimbostratus clouds.

Nimbostratus

Nimbostratus -- a gloomy sight. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Nimbostratus — a gloomy sight. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The name Nimbostratus comes from the Latin words nimbus which means “rain” and stratus for “spread out”. These gloomy clouds are the heavy rain bearers out there forming thick and dark layers of clouds that can completely block out the sun. Though they belong to the middle-level category, they may sometimes descend to lower altitudes.

Nimbostratus clouds form as a result of the gradual accumulation of moist area over a large area as the warm frontal system lifts the warm and moist area higher up in the atmosphere where it condenses. As outlined earlier, a nimbostratus cloud can form from other types of clouds, like a descending altostratus. Spreading cumulonimbus clouds may also lead to the formation of nimbostratus.

Low-level clouds

Stratus

Sheets of stratus clouds. Credit: Pixabay, Bluesnap.

Sheets of stratus clouds. Credit: Pixabay, Bluesnap.

Stratus clouds are composed of thin layers of clouds covering a large area of the sky. This is simply mist or fog when it forms close to the ground. You can easily distinguish a stratus cloud by the long horizontal layers of cloud which have a fog-like appearance.

The clouds form from large air masses that rise to the atmosphere and later condense. These are pretty benign in terms of rainfall producing light showers or even light snow if the temperatures fall below freezing. However, if enough moisture is retained at the ground level, the cloud can transform into a nimbostratus. Stratus clouds are very common all over the world most especially in the coastal and mountainous regions.

Cumulus

Cumulus clouds are characterized by a white, fluffy appearance. Credit: Pixabay, Hans.

Cumulus clouds are characterized by a white, fluffy appearance. People say these resemble cauliflowers. Credit: Pixabay, Hans.

It’s the most recognizable out of all the types of clouds.These adorable ‘piles of cotton’ form a large mass with a well-defined rounded edge, which explains the name ‘cumulus’ which is Latin for ‘heap’. Cumulus clouds

Cumulus clouds are a sign of fair weather, though they may discharge rains sometimes in form of a light shower. You can find them virtually everywhere in the world expected for the Polar regions.

Cumulonimbus

The cloud that produces showers and thunderstorms. Credit: Pixabay.

The cloud that produces showers and thunderstorms. Credit: Pixabay.

Cumulonimbus is fluffy and white like cumulus but the cloud formations are far larger. It’s a vertical developing type of cloud whose base grows from one to up to eight kilometers, hence it’s commonly called a tower cloud. For the same reason, cumulonimbus is both a low-level and high-level type of cloud. At the low-altitude base, the cloud is mostly made of water droplets but the high-altitude summit is dominated by ice crystals.

The rain comes and goes with this cloud but when it does, it can come pouring. When you see a cumulonimbus, you know there’s a thunderstorm waiting to happen somewhere.

Cumulonimbus clouds can be seen most commonly during the afternoons of summer and spring months when the Earth’s surface releases heat.

Stratocumulus

Stratocumulus clouds refer to low-lying puffy cloud formations that appear as wide horizontal cloud layers with curved summits

Stratocumulus clouds are low-lying clouds that have a wide horizontal structure. Credit: Pixabay, saragib

Stratocumulus looks like a thick white blanket of stretched out cotton. They resemble cumulus clouds except they’re far bigger. The base is well-defined and flat but the upper part of the cloud is ragged due to convection with the cloud itself.  Depending on the thickness of the cloud, a stratocumulus will have light to dark gray hues.

People often think rain is imminent when they see these clouds. In reality, you’ll be lucky to get a light drizzle out of them.

Cloud species and varieties

All of the above represents a broad classification as each type of cloud can be further grouped by species and varieties. The varieties are grouped and named based upon transparency and the arrangement of cloud elements, like so:

  • duplicatus (du) – more than one layer at different levels;
  • intortus (in) – irregular or tangled;
  • lacunosus (la) – thin cloud with regularly spaced holes, net-like;
  • opacus (op) – completely masks sun or moon;
  • perlucidus (pe) – broad patches with some (small) gaps allowing blue sky to be seen;
  • radiatus (ra) – broad parallel bands convergind owing to perspective;
  • translucidus (tr) – translucent enough to permit the sun or moon to be seen;
  • undulatus (un) – sheets with parallel undulations;
  • vertebratus (ve) – looking like ribs or bones;

Cirrus species

  • Cirrus fibratus – The most common type of cirrus cloud. Thin and fibrous, cirrus fibratus is often aligned with the high altitude wind direction. It appears as white parallel stripes which streak across the sky.
  • Cirrus uncinus – Has a trademark hook shape.
  • Cirrus spissatus – Thick and dense, cirrus spissatus tends to dominate the sky above.
  • Cirrus floccus – These have a more cotton wool like appearance than any other cirrus.
  • Cirrus castellanus – More vertically developed and have a turret-like summit.

Cirrocumulus species

  • Cirrocumulus stratiformis – These are the famous ‘fish scale’ clouds.
  • Cirrocumulus lenticularis –  Often larger than other clouds in the family with a rounded shape.
  • Cirrocumulus floccus – Have a more ragged appearance than other species. The species often appears in smaller patches with other cirrocumulus clouds.
  • Cirrocumulus castellanus – Taller than they are wide, these cute clouds resemble tiny towers in the sky

Cirrostratus species

  • Cirrostratus fibratus – It looks a lot like cirrus only with more consistency. It has the look of an animal’s fur.
  • Cirrostratus nebulosus – Has the appearance of a veil covering the sky. It’s featureless and sometimes unnoticeable.

Altocumulus species

  • Altocumulus stratiformis – Looks like a bunch of flat-bottomed puffy clouds packed tightly together but separated by small streaks.These can sometimes extend over the whole sky.
  • Altocumulus lenticularis – Lens-shaped clouds that usually form over hilly areas. These are often called spaceship clouds since they often resemble a UFO.
  • Altocumulus castellanus – These often lead to cumulonimbus thunderstorms. They’re taller and more puffy looking than they are wide.
  • Altocumulus floccus – Often spotted alongside altocumulus castellanus, altocumulus floccus is made of more rugged cloudlets.

Altostratus species

Mammatus clouds in the Nepal Himalayas. Also known as 'mammary clouds', Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mammatus clouds in the Nepal Himalayas. Also known as ‘mammary clouds’, Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

  • Altostratus Undulatus – Characterized by thin layers that resemble waves. These are a sign of slight mid-atmospheric instability.
  • Altostratus Duplicates – In this cloud formation, you will see two or more layers of altostratus clouds on top of each other.
  • Altostratus Pannus –  Has chaotic layers that make it look like a shredded cloth.
  • Altostratus Translucidus – It’s more transparent than other species allowing the contour of the sun to be visible through it.
  • Altostratus Radiates  – Clouds come in wide parallel bands pointing towards the horizon.
  • Altostratus Mamma – The name ‘mamma’ comes from the hanging pouches of this altostratus species which resemble a woman’s mammary glands.
  • Altostratus Opacus – Seen in wet days, this is a gloomy species which, once it descends, transforms into the rain-bearing nimbostratus.

Stratocumulus species

  • Stratocumulus stratiformis – This is the most common type of cloud out of all across the globe. Essentially, these are flat-based clouds with cracks in between.
  • Stratocumulus cumulogenitus – These interestingly form when a cumulus encounters a temperature inversion.
  • Stratocumulus castellanus – These are thicker, more drizzly stratocumulus clouds.
  • Stratocumulus lenticularis – The rarest variety of stratocumulus, these are often spotted in hilly locations which produce atmospheric waves. These clouds have a lens-like shape.

Stratus species

  • Stratus Fractus –  Cloud filaments whose appearance changes rapidly due to wind gusts.
  • Stratus Nebulosus – Featureless gray stratus clouds that form in cool and stable conditions when moist air moves onto a water or cold ground surface.
  • Stratus Opacus – These are the clouds that completely or partly covers the sun or moon.
  • Stratus Undulatus – This variety displays a wave-like undulation.
  • Stratus Praecipitatio – A form of stratus cloud that comes with precipitation through ice prisms, snow grains or light drizzles.
  • Stratus Translucidus – Has a veil-like pattern that outlines the sun and moon.

Cumulus species

  • Cumulus humilis – These cumulus clouds are wider than they are tall. You’ll often find more than one dotting the skyline.
  • Cumulus mediocris – As the name implies, these clouds are just as wide as they are tall. You’ll usually see them amongst a variety of other cumulus species.
  • Cumulus congestus – These taller than they are wide resembling long chimneys.
  • Cumulus fractus – Simply the broken remnants of cumulus clouds that are dissipating.

Cumulonimbus species

  • Cumulonimbus calvus – The top looks like a cumulus because the tower has not produced ice crystals yet.
  • Cumulonimbus capillatus – The top-side of the tower cloud is fibrous. This time, the water droplets have started to freeze, indicating rainfall is to be expected.
  • Cumulonimbus incus – Like in the case of cumulonimbus capillatus, the top of the cloud is fibrous but this time also anvil-shaped. This characteristic shape is the result of the cloud reaching the barrier of the troposphere and must now grow outward.

BONUS: Asperitas (Undulatus asperatus)

For years, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, who is the founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society, has been on a mission to convince the world that a new category of cloud deserves recognition. He called it Undulatus asperatus, an odd cloud formation with a distinct undulating and rolling motion. It’s characterized by localized waves in the cloud base, either smooth or dappled with smaller features, sometimes descending into sharp points, as if viewing a roughened sea surface from below. Varying levels of illuminations and thicknesses of cloud can lead to dramatic visual effects. Basically, this type of cloud looks as if it came straight from hell.

In March 2017, this very rare cloud formation was officially recognized as a distinct cloud by the International Cloud Atlas, marking the first cloud formation added since cirrus intortus in 1951. Its name was changed into Asperitas.

Asperatus Cloud, New Zealand. Photo: Merrick Davies.

Asperatus Cloud, New Zealand. Photo: Merrick Davies.

Also Read:

Scientists found lollipop-shaped ice crystals in some clouds

A rather unexpected finding might improve our understanding of how clouds form and develop.

Credits: American Geophysical Union.

Clouds filled with lollipop crystals sounds like a drug-induced vision, but it’s actually what researchers found after analyzing more than 5 million images taken during a 2009 flight across England.

“Natural processes can create objects of real beauty,” said Jonathan Crosier, a senior research fellow who studies clouds at the University of Manchester, and one of the scientists involved in the work. “We instantly started asking ourselves questions about how they form.”

Crosier and his colleagues were looking for things that would help them learn more about the precipitations and the lifetime of clouds. They were quite surprised to see numerous crystals which looked like lollipops — a spherical part on top of a “stick.” It wasn’t the first time these crystals were observed, but it was the first time they were observed in such a large number, enough to indicate that they weren’t some kind of accident.

In order to understand them, we first have to understand that some clouds exist in a mixed-phase — they contain both solid ice and liquid super-cooled water (below freezing temperature, but still liquid). These clouds exist in a very delicate balance, Crosier explains.

“Too much ice and the ice can consume the liquid water, which can lead to precipitation and the dissipation of the cloud,” he said. “Too little, and the ice will fall out, leaving behind a highly reflective super-cooled liquid cloud, which can persist for a long time, whilst generating virtually no precipitation.”

The formation of the ice lollipops happens in this type of cloud. Whenever supercooled water touches ice, it turns into ice itself. So what happens sometimes is that a warm updraft picks up these droplets of supercooled water, elongates them, and crashes them with ice crystals, causing them to freeze. So you end up with ice needles. Occasionally, these needles might break off, fall down, connect with other, unmoved and round droplets, causing these to freeze as well — creating the lollipop shape.

The ice-lollies tend to be between 0.25 mm and 1.5mm in length. They fall to the ground at around 3.6 kilometers per hour and require very specific conditions to form. Also,

“Since they were found at an altitude of around 4 kilometers, it would take just over an hour for them to reach the surface if they remain unchanged,” Crosier said. “However, when the air temperature increases above zero Celsius, then the lolly will melt and form a small rain drop. Even if the temperature profile of the atmosphere is negative — below zero Celcius — at all layers, ice-lollies might not reach the ground in their original shape, or be deformed due to other processes occurring in the clouds,” he said. And, if temperatures stay below zero Celsius, but humidity drops below 100 percent, “then the particles will start to sublimate and could vanish without a trace.”

If all this seems a bit weird, researchers also created this very cute graphic that explains things.

Credits: JoAnna Wendel, American Geophysical Union.

Journal Reference: S. Ch. Keppas, J. Crosier, T. W. Choularton, K. N. Bower — Ice lollies: An ice particle generated in supercooled conveyor belts. DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073441

‘Impossible’ clouds spotted on Titan – for the second time

Astronomers have made a puzzling observation which could have big implications for our understanding of Titan.

Near-infrared radiation from the Sun reflecting off Titan's hydrocarbon seas. Photo by NASA/JPL.

Near-infrared radiation from the Sun reflecting off Titan’s hydrocarbon seas. Photo by NASA/JPL.

Surprisingly, Titan is a lot like Earth. Even though it’s a moon of Saturn and even though it’s much colder, it shares many similarities to our planet. It’s the only place in the solar system where stable liquid sits on the surface – although it’s not water but seas of liquid methane. The geology of the satellite, with its grand canyons and numerous valleys also seems to showcase an active planet which might even host life. Now, we can add another similarity to Earth: clouds.

According to a study in Geophysical Research Letters, a seemingly impossible cloud on Titan may be created by familiar weather processes. The cloud they witnessed is made of a compound of carbon and nitrogen known as dicyanoacetylene (C4N2). The process for cloud formation was thought to be pretty straightforward: it generally involves condensation.

Here on Earth, we’re familiar with the water cycle. Water evaporates, forms clouds, then falls down on the ground through precipitation. It seemed that the same thing is happening on Titan but again, with methane instead of water. But when it comes to the vapor form of this chemical, Titan’s stratosphere, where the cloud should form, is as dry as a desert. Needless to say, this came as a surprise.

“The appearance of this ice cloud goes against everything we know about the way clouds form on Titan,” said Carrie Anderson, a CIRS co-investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study.

It’s not the first time this phenomenon was spotted. Decades ago, the infrared instrument on NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft spotted an ice cloud just like this one on Titan. That one, just like this one, had too little dicyanoacetylene – just one percent of the gas needed for the cloud to condense. Now, we know from Earth that some clouds don’t need condensation to form – through a kind of “solid-state” chemistry based on the interactions of ice particles. These clouds are bad news, according to Rachel Feltman from the Washington Post.

“Chlorine-based chemicals enter the air by way of pollution on the ground, then meet up with icy water crystals in the dry stratosphere. The chemical reactions that occur in these wispy clouds release chlorine molecules, which eat away at the ozone layer.”

But Earth and Titan’s chemistries vary greatly, so that’s still really surprising.

“The compositions of the polar stratospheres of Titan and Earth could not differ more,” said Michael Flasar, CIRS principal investigator at Goddard. “It is amazing to see how well the underlying physics of both atmospheres has led to analogous cloud chemistry.”

New NASA image shows first cloud on Pluto

A spectacular new image from the New Horizons image highlights what could very well be the first cloud on the dwarf planet.

Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The New Horizons space probe was launched back in 2006, and in late 2014, neared Pluto and snapped a trove of spectacular images of the former planet. However, because the probe can only send information at a rate of 38 kbps, it takes a very long time to receive all the information. New Horizons is sending back millions of photos and a new such intriguing photo was recently published by NASA.

It shows Pluto from a distance of about 13,400 miles, details the dark and rugged mountains as well as an area called “Pluto’s twilight zone.”

“The topography here appears quite rugged, and broad valleys and sharp peaks with relief totaling 3 miles (5 kilometers) are apparent,” NASA officials wrote.

But more intriguingly, the picture depicts something which looks like a cloud, shining through Pluto’s complicated layers of haze. If it really is a cloud, then it may very well be the only one ever spotted on the dwarf planet.

At the moment, we don’t know for sure if it is a cloud, and we probably won’t know for sure anytime soon. But if it looks like a cloud, and it can be a cloud… then it’s probably a cloud.

“Atmospheric models suggest that methane clouds can occasionally form in Pluto’s atmosphere,” said NASA in the same statement.

As for the rest of the picture, it’s quite useful itself, as NASA writes:

“These silhouetted terrains therefore act as a useful “anchor point,” giving New Horizons scientists a rare, detailed glimpse at the lay of the land in this mysterious part of Pluto seen at high resolution only in twilight. The scene in this inset is 460 miles (750 kilometers) wide.”

We’re only recently starting to learn just how complex and full of surprises Pluto really is. Other findings announced by NASA include:

  • Like Earth, Pluto has a long ion tail, that extends downwind at least a distance of about 100 Pluto radii (73,800 miles/118,700 kilometers, almost three times the circumference of Earth), loaded with heavy ions from the atmosphere and with “considerable structure.”
  • Pluto is geologically active.
  • Pluto’s obstruction of the solar wind upwind of the planet is smaller than had been thought. The solar wind isn’t blocked until about the distance of a couple planetary radii (1,844 miles/3,000 kilometers, about the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles.)
  • Pluto has a very thin boundary of Pluto’s tail of heavy ions and the sheath of the shocked solar wind that presents an obstacle to its flow.

The Moon is shrouded by a dust cloud, and a mystery still stands

The Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere, but it is surrounded by a thick dust cloud; the dust constantly falls down to the lunar surface, but new dust constantly jumps to replenish it. The pattern of dust falling back to its home “in due time … will fill in craters,” says the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Mihaly Horanyi, who led the team that found the dust cloud. “Eventually this will erase the footprints of the astronauts.” But why is this happening?

Image via John Lonsdale.

Some astronomers believe this happens due to the the “steady rain” of particles that impact the lunar surface, constantly scattering new dust onto the surface. But these are not clouds like the ones on Earth – they aren’t even visible if direct light doesn’t shine on them. They also get much more dense when the Earth-Moon system passes through debris left in the wake of a comet.

“The Geminid meteor shower generates shooting stars on Earth, but they can’t do that on the moon,” said Mihaly Horanyi, a physicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the first author on the paper. “They hit the surface on the moon and increase the dust density for a few days.”

In a way, it’s like a car splashing bugs on the windshield. Rick Elphic, a LADEE project scientist who was unaffiliated with the study said:

“The Earth/moon system orbits the sun with an average speed of 67,000 miles per hour, and like bugs on a car windshield, the interplanetary micrometeoroid materials smack into the ‘upstream’ side of the Earth and moon,” Elphic reportedly said. “On Earth these cause meteors, which burn up in the atmosphere, but with the almost negligible atmosphere on the moon, these particles smash right into the lunar surface with tremendous speed.”

These impacts cause the dust to raise at 125 miles above the moon’s surface, but it doesn’t send the dust high enough or fast enough to escape the moon’s gravity.

“This is day in and day out,” Horanyi said. “It is continuously ongoing. Every impact is just a little speck of dust being replaced, but eventually, this process will erase the footprints of the first astronauts to step on the moon.”

Researchers also note that the cloud is not symmetrical, due to the nature of the collisions.

“The lopsided part was kind of a surprise from nature,” said Jamey Szalay, a fourth-year graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who worked on the study.

(Photo: © Bloomsbury Auctions)

As they were figuring all these out, astronomers remembered that Apollo astronauts orbiting the moon in the 1960s and 70s saw a glow along the horizon just before sunrise, which at the time made scientists believe that the glow was created by dust. This new study confirms that theory, but still doesn’t explain the glow the astronauts reported.

“We have found no evidence of the high density small particle population that could have explained the Apollo reports,” Horanyi said.

New answers, and new questions emerge alike; the moon is still a mysterious, attractive place.

Why raindrops are basically sky pearls

At the center of every raindrop there is an impurity (dust, clay, etc) – basically all raindrops have something like that at its core, just like pearls do. So in a way, raindrops form just like pearls. Let’s look at this phenomenon in more detail.

Image via UCSD.

In one form or another, water is always present in the atmosphere. However, water particles are simply too small to bond together for the formation of cloud droplets. They need another substance, a ‘seed’ with a radius of at least one micrometer (one millionth of a meter) on which they can form a bond. Those objects are called nuclei, or to be more exact, cloud condensation nuclei.

Cloud condensation nuclei or CCNs (also known as cloud seeds) are small particles typically 0.2 µm, or 1/100th the size of a cloud droplet on which water can condens. There are different types of seeds; it’s usually thin particles of dust or clay, but soot or black carbon from fires can also play this role. The ability of these different types of particles to form cloud droplets varies according to their size and also their exact composition, as the hygroscopic properties of these different constituents are very different. Some particles are better than others at seeding rain, while others can be better at seeding snow or ice. Temperature actually plays a key role.

Image via NOAA.

A cloud results when a block of air (called a parcel) containing water vapor has cooled below the point of saturation. As it moves higher and higher, it moves into areas of lower pressure and it expands. This requires heat energy to be removed from the parcel. As the parcel reaches saturation temperature (100% relative humidity), water vapor will condense onto the cloud condensation nuclei resulting in the formation of a cloud droplet – if there is a seed, of course.

Phytoplankton can also play a special role in seeding rain – some have supposed that it can actually act as a regulator mechanism for rain. It goes like this: Sulfate aerosol (SO42− and methanesulfonic acid droplets) act as CCNs. Large algal blooms in ocean surface waters occur in a wide range of latitudes and contribute considerable DMS into the atmosphere to act as nuclei. According to James Lovelock, author of The Revenge of Gaia, this happens because arming oceans are likely to become stratified, with most ocean nutrients trapped in the cold bottom layers while most of the light needed for photosynthesis in the warm top layer. Under this scenario, deprived of nutrients, marine phytoplankton would decline, as would sulfate cloud condensation nuclei, and the high albedo associated with low clouds. This is known as the CLAW hypothesis, but until now, it has not yet been thoroughly confirmed.

Phytoplankton bloom in the North Sea and the Skagerrak – NASA

The take-away message is that you don’t only need water for rain – you also need a seed.

Ocean microorganisms can ‘seed’ clouds, research finds

Researchers have known for quite a while that microorganisms in the ocean can significantly affect the local weather but now, a new connection has been found between phytoplankton breakdown and cloud formation. This can lead to improved climate models and better weather prediction.

Waves splashing spread out organic components which can encourage cloud formation. Image via Wikipedia.

I just love mornings by the sea – the sun is starting to shine, the breeze is cooling you off, and the waves are splashing on in a monotonous and soothing movement. But there’s more than meets the eye in that water that the waves are splashing – scientists have proven that bacteria on the ocean’s surface can affect the molecular makeup of sea spray droplets.

Basically, bacteria break down phytoplankton, the ubiquitous photosynthesizing organisms that inhabit almost all oceans and seas. As they break it down, they release proteins, sugars and lipids which get trapped in water droplets, and these water droplets can be ejected into the atmosphere. Naturally, this raises the number of organic components in the atmosphere, which is important in cloud formation – several studies have attempted to link phytoplankton blooms with organic content in the atmosphere, but failed to do so conclusively. They then went to the lab to see exactly what the effects are.

They were especially interested by phytoplankton blooms, so that’s the condition they tried to recreate. They managed to bring some 13,000 liters (3,400 gallons) of California sea water into the lab, into a controlled ocean-atmosphere wave machine. Their first results showed that increased phytoplankton concentration did indeed lead to increased organic content, and that organic content controls and encourages cloud formation (to an extent).

“Sea spray aerosol (SSA) particles profoundly impact climate through their ability to scatter solar radiation and serve as seeds for cloud formation. The climate properties can change when sea salt particles become mixed with insoluble organic material formed in ocean regions with phytoplankton blooms. Currently, the extent to which SSA chemical composition and climate properties are altered by biological processes in the ocean is uncertain.”

The research also shows that the interactions between the oceanic aerosols, microorganisms and climate is much more complex than previously understood. It’s interactions like this one that makes climate modelling so complicate – the more interactions we can factor in, the more accurate the models get.

Here’s a very good video detailing the processes through which aerosols affect our climate:

Journal Reference: Xiaofei Wang  et al. Microbial Control of Sea Spray Aerosol Composition: A Tale of Two Blooms. DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.5b00148

Pollen may actually influence weather

Spring – for some people it’s the most beautiful time of the year, when the snows melt, the sun shines brighter and hotter and everything turns green, while for others, it’s hell on Earth. For people with allergies, especially pollen allergies, spring is sneeze season. But as some researchers found, pollen does more than trigger a nasty allergy – it can actually influence the weather.

Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants; if pollen lands on a compatible female cone, it germinates. However, if it lands inside your nose, it can irritate you and trigger serious allergies. Now, researchers from Texas A&M and the University of Michigan are suggesting that these tiny particles can not only influence your health, but they can influence the weather – especially rain.

The study, published on Monday in Geophysical Research Letters, explains that regular pollen is too heavy to influence the weather, but airborne pollen grains can burst when wet, splitting into subpollen particles. These smaller, subpollen particles can seed clouds and thus lead to increased rain formation.

“What we found is when pollen gets wet, it can rupture very easily in seconds or minutes and make lots of smaller particles that can act as cloud condensation nuclei, or collectors for water,” University of Michigan associate professor Allison Steiner said.

Contrary to popular belief, that all pollen grains break into smaller particles when they come in contact with water, she showed that subpollen particles actually absorb water vapour, encouraging further cloud formation.

They tested for this by getting pollen from several known allergic plants that included pecan, cedar, pine trees, oak, birch, and ragweed. They extracted two grams of pollen and soaked them in water for an hour, after which they made a pollen fragment spray with an atomizer, and sprayed it into a cloud-making chamber. The different types of pollen exhibited a similar behaviour, encouraging cloud formation.

This has significant effects not only for weather patterns, but for the estimated 20% of people with pollen allergies. Additionally, researchers are beginning to think that trees released pollen so rain can come around more often to help trees and plants grow, and this phenomenon can also significantly influence drought spells.

Journal Reference: Allison L. Steiner, Sarah D. Brooks, Chunhua Deng, Daniel C.O. Thornton, Michael Pendleton,
Vaughn Bryant. Pollen as atmospheric cloud condensation nuclei. DOI: 10.1002/2015GL064060

 

Top Five Technology Predictions For 2014

Technology trends are always on the rise. With each year we see new ideas come into play and the improvements of older ideas. With the internet integration of most technology, most of these advances are interlinked. Connectivity and usability are common themes amongst this year’s forerunners.

5 – Portability and Mobile Office
As the workplace becomes more and more diverse, so does the need for the office to become more portable. Technology is pushing this forward as ultra-book laptops combine the usability of a tablet with the functionality of a full laptop. These portable personal computers have risen in sales over the years and are comparable to desktops in power and resources. Many laptops even exceed their desktop brethren and are the preferred platform of use among businesses.

4 – Internet and Cloud Based Operations

Top Ten Technology Predictions For 2014

Simply put, this is the cloud. Although the cloud itself made its debut a few years ago, there was much speculation regarding its use. IT professionals were uncertain about the virtual nature of the cloud while businesses simply couldn’t understand how it could work without dedicated systems. Cloud based operations are on the rise as connection speeds become faster and network portability becomes a necessity. Since most cloud based services deal with large amounts of customer, this bulk savings is passed along to the customer making these services quite cost effective for businesses.

3 – Big Data
The need for more data storage space has never been greater. This is greatly due to the amount of information that is being sent, received, and stored for use at a later date. Many companies require a back storage of several years and as paperwork becomes transferred to digital data, the need for a place to store that information has grown. Outsourcing big data centers work like warehouses in that they store everything from emails to the pictures of last year’s office holiday party. The space required for this much data is enormous and often best to be stored off-site from the company.

2 – E-Currency
Despite the wane of Bitcoin and its founder under federal investigation, the response to e-currency is astounding and a trend not to be looked over. E-currency provides a cash-less exchange of credits for services and items that is proving to be a huge alternative in commerce. With economic times and the value of the dollar at an all-time low, e-currencies could be the wave of future. Shoppers and vendors alike like the idea of using a cash free system in which their items and credits are exchanged freely. There’s no international exchange rate to bother with and credits are earned based on the amount of activity in which the users exchange.

1 – Security Systems
In 2014, the biggest trend is in security. This ranges from corporate cyber-security to home security. In the end of 2013, two major corporations were hit with breeches of security that exposed many customers and clients personal and financial information. The world witnessed the informational weaknesses provided courtesy of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. These lead many to speculate that a major cyber-attack is very much something that could be reality that happens this year. On the home front, security systems have found themselves on the forefront by utilizing internet systems to control and monitor things like fire and protection of the home and body.

Cloudy Forecasts

Ask any small businessman to tell you which of the logistical components of his enterprise he considers the most important, and often enough his reply will include sundry provisions for computers, phone systems and software for communications.  That is because any businessman worth his salt understands the value of a strong and reliable IT and communications network.

Obviously, people who work need to communicate.  They need to share and exchange ideas.  Access to the internet and a  good network of phones, computers and the necessary software and applications address these basic needs, and allow people working within an enterprise better opportunities to contribute to the achievement of common objectives.

A necessary expense

The operation and maintenance of IT and communications infrastructure in small businesses often demands sizeable investments.  Computers, data center systems, software, telephones and mobile devices cost money — big money.  Global business spending on telecommunications and other IT services is, in fact, expected to increase to as much as $3.7 trillion this year alone.  Small businesses will account for a considerable portion of this spending, having already registered an estimated two percent growth in IT expenditures last year.

Telecommunications and IT are a necessary component of any viable business plan.  For most small businesses, they constitute a considerable yet absolutely necessary expense.  But the next big thing in information technology is already starting to change that.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is the use of hardware and software over a network — most often the internet.  The word “cloud” has been used as a metaphor for the internet for quite a while now.  So, while the exact definition of the term may vary depending on which expert you ask, “cloud computing” mostly describes  any internet-based activity that entrusts a user’s communications, data and software to a remote service.

There are various types of cloud computing.  But for small businesses, software as a service (SaaS) is among the most popular.  In this type of cloud computing, service providers manage the hardware and platform on which the software runs.  The end-user, in turn, accesses the software through a web browser or a desktop or mobile application.  The services of Google and amazon.com fall under this type of cloud computing.

Cloud-based phone systems

Many phone service providers already offer cloud-based computing services .  Cloud-based technologies allow these providers the flexibility they need to offer customers a wide range of safe, reliable and convenient internet-based phone and communications services.

With no more than an internet connection, for instance, a small business owner using a cloud-based phone system can manage multiple locations, devices and employees within his cloud phone network. Because the service provider manages the hardware,   he can do away with actual PBX systems in his office and rely entirely on a virtual system maintained and managed by the provider.  This enables the small business owner to make considerable reductions to his or her regular IT and communications expenses.

 The wave of the future

Many IT industry observers assert that cloud-based computing is the wave of the future. The results of Northbridge’s  2012 Future of Cloud Computing Survey appear to support this view.  The survey points to a rapid increase in venture capital investments into cloud computing in recent years as venture financing into cloud technologies grew from $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion between the years 2010 and 2011 alone.   The same survey indicates that around 84 percent of all software released last year was delivered through cloud SaaS systems.

If you happen to be a small business owner looking for new and innovative ways to cut down on your IT and communications costs even as you increase efficiencies within your enterprise, then this next big thing in information technology just might offer you the solution you’ve been looking for.

 

What Happened in Mobile Tech Last 2012

Another year has passed and another step towards mobile technology evolution has been taken. It looks like the world is going digital right before our very eyes and this trend is expected to continue until 2013.

From smartphones and tablets to cloud technology, 2012 has been a year of advancements and improvements.

To give you more idea, here are some significant things that happened in mobile tech last 2012:

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Android Catches iOS

The Android vs. iOS debate has been going on even before 2012 but Apple’s iPhone and the iPad has always been the standard that other OEMs have looked up to. But when the Samsung Galaxy S3 came out, the game changed. Suddenly, there is a phone that is not only good enough to compete with the iPhone, but also has the brand name to attract consumers. After that, more people gave Android a chance which gave other devices like HTC One X more attention. And with the underwhelming improvements of the iPhone 5, iPad 4 and the iPad Mini, and the success of Google’s own Nexus brand complete with the latest Jellybean updates, the debate over which OS is better has become more heated than ever.

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Windows is back in the Game… Sort of

Windows tried to make a big splash with their new operating systems for mobile devices. First there is the Windows phone 8 OS for smartphones. Though it was also featured on other devices like HTC Windows Phone 8+, it was really the Nokia Lumia 920 that represented the new operating system. Nokia and Microsoft banked on it to bring them back to contention but the sales have been modest. Same goes for Microsoft’s first foray to the tablet market. Unfortunately, the Surface RT was not the iPad killer Microsoft has touted it to be. A lot of it can be attributed to the confusion over what Windows RT is in the first place, especially when people were expecting a full out Windows 8 device. That said, though Microsoft is still a step behind both Android and iOS, I think they made enough splash to get some attention to their brand. What they do in 2013 should be interesting.

 

Hardware and Software under the Same Roof

Looks like a lot of the major players are following the Apple route, which is developing software and hardware under one company. As mentioned above, Microsoft has already produced their own tablet in Surface, much to the chagrin of some partners like Acer. Google is following the same route as well. Though their mobile devices were produced in partnership with other manufacturers, it already carries their Nexus brand. And with the acquisition of Motorola, Google might be poised to produce their own devices in-house in 2013 or 2014.

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The Rise of Cloud Technology

Cloud technology has been around for a long time but with the rise of mobile technology through tablets and smartphones, there are now more and more cloud providers popping up to provide different services. From online storage apps like Box and Dropbox, to online PBX services like RingCentral, it seems like hosting and creating your own solution is really turning to something impractical and expensive. And with the frankenstorm Sandy hitting the East Coast and disrupting a lot of business operations, it looks like third party cloud service providers will be a common business technology route for a lot of companies from here on out because it can be accessed anywhere as long as there is Internet connection.

 

 

Beyond The Clouds: Services You Can Avail

A lot of people hear talk and read news about the continuous emergence of cloud computing in the Internet nowadays. Hundreds of businesses are taking steps to take their business process to the next level by introducing cloud computing to their framework and surrendering part or the entirety of their services to the mercy of the Internet.

 Beyond the Clouds

Various types and faces of businesses have made the move from ordinary IT architectures to cloud-based computing infrastructures. The following are but a few enterprises that have either moved their businesses up to the Cloud or devised entirely new breeds of businesses that harness the infinite capabilities of cloud computing:

 

  • DropBoxknown to a lot of customers as the popular file-sharing service, DropBox actually operates on the Cloud as a form of cloud computing service called cloud storage. By opening its vast stores of hardware storage to customers and even other businesses, it has simplified the concept of storage as we know it: never again will people need to carry around bulky storage media to hold their personal information. For as long as you have access to an internet-ready device, you can easily gain access to your files on the Cloud and move them between computers and mobile devices.

 

  • Steamgamers worldwide know and speak of this cloud service giant as one of the progenitors of cloud computing in gaming. By offering game titles to customers in a digital fashion and working on the same architecture of cloud storage to digitally store games in your own private collection, gamers are guaranteed that they gain access to game titles wherever they are in the world and have virtually no need for maintenance of physical game copies. As their collection is completely compiled and stored in the Steam cloud, they have no need to move game copies around between computers, just downloading them from their accounts and enjoying the game wherever they are.

 

  • RingCentral a popular provider of phone services, they simplify communications for businesses as we know it by introducing the might of the Internet to take over the duties of the normal telephone. Whether it’s for businesses that operate on distant locations and remote sites across the continent or the world, employees and managers can easily communicate with one another through the wonders of internet telephony.

 

  • IBM once known as one of the hardware giants and prime providers of quality computers to hundreds and thousands of enterprises worldwide, IBM has now branched out its services to the Cloud as well by offering small-time businesses and even growing corporations the opportunity to host their information systems through IBM’s cloud computing service. By offering faster access to their sites and easier facilitation of server management activities in a completely virtual environment, customers are spared the trouble of having to fund their own physical IT architecture and spending for the software license required by their information systems.

 

More and more businesses are joining the initiative to move their services to the Cloud and in response, a lot of cloud computing services have been made available to cater for this emerging trend. Customers around the world get more and more empowered to utilize the Internet for their business needs through the wonders of cloud computing services.