Ice crystals observation


I’m fascinated by clouds. I like to watch them and let my imagination fly with them. When I was asked the question “What would you like to send skywards?” during a workshop at the Palais de Tokyo, my first idea was to send a station to observe the ice crystals in the clouds.

There can be several reasons for observing these crystals. They are beautiful creations of nature and observing their various shapes is fascinating and that is already a nice motivation. They can also be good examples for teaching/education. Their formation is explained by the thermodynamics and exemplifies concepts such as nucleation or supercooling. They are also responsible for various optical phenomenons such as sun dogs, moon dogs, circumzenithal arcs, and many others. Observing them can bring enthusiasm to people who are asking questions about nature and arose more curiosity. It is also important to observe them in order to better understand the climate and its change: the interaction of the crystal clouds with the sun radiations is known to have a significant effect on climate, which remains partially misunderstood and it is an important science research topics.

This is why I would like to send a station to observe ice crystals in the sky. Maybe some of you would share a common interest in this project, might it be educative, artistic, scientific or utopic. Please let me know if this is the case and let see what happens…


Hi Eric @ericmersch ! Welcome to the Aerocene community forum!

Your fascination with ice crystals is very inspiring! Of course we could send a station to observe this phenomena with a solar powered balloon. Just bear in mind that payload weight would be around 1,5 to 2 kilograms maximum, with perfect conditions. And now talking about conditions, solar balloons need constant sunlight to remain aloft. I am wondering, are these ice crystals found only within cloud formations or could they be found aloft outside clouds?

I am too fascinated by clouds! Here’s two examples that I really like:

Actinoform clouds:
These clouds organize themselves in nature like patterns! Talk about Gaia and the living earth :earth_africa::slight_smile:

In a satellite image, they look like distinct leaf-like or spokes-on-a-wheel patterns that stand out from the rest of the low-lying cloud field. However, why they have this shape or how they are formed is not known, but recent evidence suggests that the interaction of both radiation and precipitation may help to organize them on the mesoscale.

Noctilucent clouds: Clouds that shine in the dark!

Noctilucent clouds , or night shining clouds , are tenuous cloud-like phenomena in the upper atmosphere of Earth. They consist of ice crystals and are only visible during astronomical twilight. Noctilucent roughly means “night shining” in Latin.

Pleasure to e-meet you! Greetings from Buenos Aires


Super interesting to read this thread @ericmersch and @Joaquin.

I once heard the sound of melting ice crystals and what becomes of it is this really loud crackling sound. Considering their size, it’s like the sound of an explosion. Makes you think how much of an impact the sun has on ice - and clouds…

We - or at least I - sometimes forget the invaluable role Clouds have in cooling the planet, reflecting heat from the sun back into space. Apparently Science Mag released a new study recently - did anyone read it?

I also wanted to shed some light on The Cloud Appreciation Society, a “cloud fanclub” somewhere in between poetry and science. They are a really large group of individuals mainly in the UK sharing their experiences and imaginative thoughts and ideas around clouds…



Hey @camilla! Thanks for your fantastic links! Which just reminded me of a fantastic resource for anyone interested in learning more about meterology:
The Comet Program from US University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which is full of free and very high quality lessons and online courses.
All resources can be accesed from this site.


Hi @Joaquin and @camilla! Thanks for your comments, links and shared enthusiasm!

I never heard about the noctulicent clouds that you talk about, Joaquin. Sometimes, you only start to see things after being aware that they exists. That was the case for me when I heard about sun dogs, those little rainbows that sometimes appear at both sides of the sun through the clouds. Now, I often see them because I pay more attention (I took this picture of them with a halo last week between Brussels and Paris). I hope I can start to see noctulicent clouds soon cause their part of nature’s beauty.

Thanks for the links Camilla, I’m also eager to learn more about the effect of clouds on global warming. I like the idea of this cloud appreciation society and their inspiring manifesto. I’m not a patron of it, but I discovered it when reading “the Cloudspotter’s guide”, a book of the society’s founder that I recommend.

Regarding your practical considerations, Joaquin, I think the payload shouldn’t be a problem for the station, though an important constraint. I think it is important to evaluate the chance to observe ice crystals before sending a station in the air. I have the feeling that the best opportunity to observe them remains to go inside a cloud. Certainly not a thick cloud of low altitude, because the balloon requires sunlight, I was more thinking of higher altitudes clouds with more sunlight passing through it.

Do you think such clouds are accessible with a solar balloon or do you know if previous solar ballon flights have been in such clouds?

It’s difficult for me to evaluate the chance to observe ice crystals with a solar balloon, but I could contact scientists who did similar experiments to ask them their opinion and encourage them to be in the loop.