Look up at the sky and clouds may look like “feather canyons” and “ice cream castles in the air,” as they did to Joni Mitchell. But why do they look as if they’re suspended in mid-air, and are they actually floating? And if so, what keeps them aloft?
“It’s sort of an illusion,” Alex Lamers, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, told Live Science. “It’s not like there’s a pillow or something that’s magically floating in air.”
A cloud is a collection of water droplets and ice crystals. These droplets form around a cloud condensation nucleus, which could be a speck of dust or salt, Lamers explained. When a water-laden cloud grows too heavy, precipitation falls as rain, snow or hail. But even before rainfall, these droplets make their way toward Earth, albeit at a leisurely pace.
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