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Clouds, Rain, & Rainbow STEM!

This week in science we studied a little about clouds, rain, and rainbows by making a cloud in a jar and manufacturing a rainbow! These fun and simple projects offer a great way to demonstrate how clouds form and eventually rain and how rainbows are made and light bending. The cloud in a jar activity is also a great one to do when studying the water cycle. Check out our project and how we did everything below. If you prefer a downloadable version of this project, you’ll find that below as well. The download includes worksheets to use with these activities plus all of the information on this page! Enjoy these fun STEM activities!

All about Clouds & Rain

What are clouds? Drops of water cling to tiny dust particles, eventually creating a cloud. Drops of water or ice crystals evaporate from bodies of water. The drops then group together, clinging to tiny particles of dust in the sky that then form clouds!

What kind of clouds are there? There are many different types of clouds. Some look fluffy, others are more thin, and some even make up funny looking shapes! According to the World Meteorological Organizations International Cloud Atlas, there are more than 100 types of clouds! However, all of the many variations of Clouds can be put into one of the 10 basic types depending on their shape and height in the sky. Of the 10 basic types there are four main types of clouds; cumulus, cirrus, stratus, and nimbus. The other basic types are cirrostratus, cirrocumulus, altostratus, altocumulus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus, and cumulonimbus.

Which clouds produce precipitation? Most clouds produce no precipitation at all, however some clouds do eventually become so full and heavy with water that they begin to leak causing rain! Almost all rain is produced from low-level clouds, though some mid-level clouds may produce a sprinkle themselves on occasion. The main precipitation-producing cloud types are nimbostratus which can bring hours of rain or snow, cumulus which, if big enough, can produce steady rains, and cumulonimbus which produce heavy rains, thunderstorms, and hail. A few other cloud types may produce rain or snow as well, however it evaporates before ever reaching the ground.

Okay, now that we know more about clouds, it’s time to make one of our own! To do this fun STEM weather activity you will need the following items: a mason jar or other glass jar with metal lid, hairspray, ice-cubes, and water.

Step 1: Warm the jar by filling it with warm water.

Step 2: While your jar is warming up, turn the metal lid upside down and fill it with ice cubes.

Step 3: Pour the warm water out of your jar and replace it with about 1 inch of hot water.

Step 4: Spray a small amount of hairspray into the jar trying your best to avoid getting it on the sides (in or out) of the jar. Then quickly put the upside down lid of ice on top of the jar.

Watch closely! You should start to see a cloud forming in the top of the jar. As the cloud grows, you may even see a bit of a rainfall in your jar!

What’s happening here? The hot water inside the jar begins to evaporate turning into a gas. The water vapor is then carried up in the air. When it reaches the top of the jar it cools and reverts back into a liquid. A small drop of water forms around each spec of the hairspray in the jar and creates a cloud! The same thing happens to all of the water on earth. The Sun heats the water causing it to turn into vapor, evaporate and travel high into the air. As it gets higher, the vapor cools down and the tiny water drops cling to dust in the sky making clouds!

For added fun, ask an adult for help to look up the different clouds appearances and see if your cloud looks similar to any of them!

All about Rainbows

What is a rainbow? Sunlight is made up of various colors. When the colors mix together they create white light. When you see a rainbow, what you are seeing is light that has been split into the many colors creating the meteorological phenomenon we know as a rainbow! Sun rays strike raindrops falling from faraway rain clouds resulting in the multicolored arch, or curved lines of light you see appear in the sky!

What’s the best time to look for rainbows? Rainbows appear in the part of the sky opposite the Sun, most often in the early morning or late afternoon, after a rainfall.

Typically you need the Sun for a rainbow, but there is an activity you can try at home to create your own without using the Sun’s rays! To make your very own rainbow at home you’ll need a large clear bowl/jar, a small mirror, flashlight, water, and white cardstock paper. If you don’t have a mirror, a jar with ridges like the one we used works very well!

Step 1: Set up your cardstock in a standing position. Leaning it against something or using magnets to put it on the fridge works well.

Step 2: Fill the bowl with water.

Step 3: Holding the mirror, place it in the water and shine the light at the mirror. Move the mirror and light around until you see a rainbow on your cardstock! If you used the ridged jar rather than a mirror, shine the light through the water, towards the ridges on the jar until a rainbow appears on the cardstock!

What’s happening here? Light slows when it travels from air into water. The changing speed causes the light to bend. Each ray of light bends a different amount, which means the light gets split into the various colors of the rainbow. That’s exactly what happens with this activity! The light bounces off of the mirror, travels out of the bowl and bends as it leaves the water.

This download includes worksheets, plus all of the information on this page!

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