Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2004 January 12
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
A Hole Punch Cloud Over Alabama
Credit & Copyright: Joel Knain

Explanation: What could create a huge hole in the clouds? Such a hole, likely hundreds of meters across, was photographed last month from a driveway near Mobile, Alabama, USA. Very unusual to see, hole-punch clouds like this are still the topic of meteorological speculation. A leading hypothesis holds that the hole-punch cloud is caused by falling ice-crystals. The ice-crystals could originate in a higher cloud or be facilitated by a passing airplane exhaust. If the air has just the right temperature and moisture content, the falling crystals will absorb water from the air and grow. For this to happen, the water must be so cold that all it needs is a surface to freeze on. The moisture lost from the air increases the evaporation rate from the cloud water droplets so they dissipate to form the hole. The now heavier ice crystals continue to fall and form the more tenuous wispy cloud-like virga seen inside and just below the hole. Water and ice from the virga evaporates before they reach the ground.

Tomorrow's picture: Pan the Moon

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | Glossary | Education | About APOD | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Web Site Statements, Warnings, and Disclaimers
NASA Official: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.