I wrote this short article for my grandson concerning the formation of clouds at an atomic level. I would be interested in constructive criticism before I put it away until he gets older. If anyone is aware of websites or other sources of information concerning this subject, I would be interested in knowing about them. I guess I just never saw any really good articles covering this topic. FYI - this article is copyrighted by me. ________________________________________________ © Copyright 2003, William J. Gavlas Understanding the Atomics of Cloud Formation When we are children, we are taught how clouds are formed. The story goes something like this: Water is heated by the Sun and evaporates and rises into the sky. When the water vapor condenses, it becomes a cloud. When enough water has accumulated, the water falls in the form of rain. This is a true explanation and satisfies the curiosity of children. Since the question is answered so well, many adults never ask it again. But what really happens in the formation of a cloud on the atomic level? By answering this simple question, looking at the atomic interaction, many other questions can be answered as well. Water is a molecule that consists of two elements: hydrogen and oxygen. There are two hydrogen atoms for each oxygen atom. Consequently the chemical composition of water is expressed as H2O. In the earth’s atmosphere, both oxygen and hydrogen exist in a gaseous form. In other words, they float above the surface of the earth and they are invisible to the naked eye. Hydrogen normally consists of 1 electron and 1 proton. Oxygen normally consists of 8 protons, 8 neutrons and 8 electrons. If we add all of the ingredients together, (2 hydrogen atoms = 2 protons and 2 electrons + 1 oxygen atom = 8 protons, 8 neutrons and 8 electrons) we have 10 protons, 10 electrons and 8 neutrons. Hydrogen does not have any neutrons to contribute. In order to combine the oxygen and hydrogen to make a water molecule, either the hydrogen or oxygen must give up a total of two electrons so that the two single hydrogen protons can bond with the electrons in the oxygen atom. This can be done with fire or a fuel cell. The resulting atomic composition of the water molecule is 10 protons, 8 electrons and 8 neutrons. Oddly enough, when hydrogen and oxygen are combined into a water molecule, the melting temperature is 32° F (0° C). This is a much higher temperature than either of the atoms that make water. Hydrogen melts at –259.2° C. Oxygen melts at -218.8° C. The difference in the melting point of frozen water and the melting points of the atoms that make up water is over 400° F! Unfortunately, I currently cannot locate any information that indicates what state (solid, liquid or gas) the oxygen and hydrogen atoms are in when they contain precisely the correct number of electrons present in the orbits of the atoms. Since the hydrogen and oxygen atoms must give up two electrons in order to become a water molecule, the end result is no longer a gas in our atmosphere. It is heavier than air and becomes a liquid that normally resides on the surface of the earth. Since we now have more protons (10) than electrons (8), the water molecule will be “sticky”. It will have a tendency to loosely bond with free electrons or electrons in other molecules. In order for the water molecule to rise into the air, the water molecule must obtain at least one more electron but, more than likely, two. If the number of electrons attached to the water molecule reaches ten (the number we started with when they were both a gas), the water molecule will rise from the earth. This is caused by the fact that electrons are heat and heat rises. More precisely stated, the law is, “Electrons flow from a greater concentration to a lesser concentration through the path of least resistance.” Once the water molecule reaches a cooler part of the atmosphere, the extra electrons that were picked up on the surface of the earth escape the loose connections they have to the 10 protons in the water molecule. Consequently, the water molecule stops traveling upwards based on its’ lighter than air characteristics. Even after it turns back into a liquid, it may be lifted higher into the atmosphere by the water molecules or heat rising from below. As the loosely connected electrons break free of the water molecule, the molecule returns to a liquid state. It now attempts to bond with other water molecules in close proximity to it. The liquid molecule will attract another water molecule in order to “borrow” its’ electron. As this “borrowing” continues, water vapor is formed into clouds. Each water molecule is attracted to another water molecule because of its’ lack of electrons. In essence, this interaction has created a gravity in the cloud that causes water molecules to be pulled towards each other. If you observe clouds closely, you will often see smaller clouds being pulled toward larger clouds. You can also see that the cloud usually moves as one body giving the appearance of something you could actually sit on. If you have flown in an airplane or walked in the fog, you may have noticed that the water vapor in a cloud is not the same as the rain that falls from the cloud. The cloud is a mist. Very tiny water droplets exist in the cloud. So how do those droplets become rain? At higher elevations (above 8,000 feet above sea level), heavy rains are almost always accompanied by hail even on warm summer days. This indicates that some part of the cloud has frozen into ice particles. The ice is formed because electrons are pulled from the clusters of water molecules that make up the mist in the cloud. Because the molecules are starved for electrons, they tend to pull more of the tiny droplets together and form ice. As the weight of the ice becomes greater than the pressure pushing the ice into the sky, the ice begins to fall towards the earth. As it travels downward, it picks up more of the tiny droplets from the cloud and begins to warm. As it falls, the ice melts and turns into rain.