Celestial Cloudscapes

Secluded worlds hide secrets

from our cold, prying eyes,

suffocating starlight in the heat

of their embrace.


Lost beneath the contrails of a

smoggy methane haze,

we conjure up impossible visions;

draping distant lands

in sparkling, precious mists.


Ruby clouds dissipate,

buried in the plausibility

of every grain of sand;

their shimmering mirage

dispelled by the coarseness

of our modelled reality.


Visions fade from view;

regurgitated numbers

peeling back secrets

that unnerve the impossible.

Intricate cloud patterns in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter in this new view taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has created a cloud atlas for extra-terrestrial planets.

While some exoplanets (i.e. those planets that exist outside of our solar system) seem to have clear atmospheres, many have clouds that completely block any starlight from filtering through, thereby preventing the study of what lies beneath. To explain these observations, astronomers have proposed many strange types of clouds, ranging from smoggy methane hazes to formations of corundum (the mineral from which rubies and sapphires are formed). However, a new model has revealed that many of the exotic clouds proposed over the years are difficult to form because the energy required to condense the gases is simply too high.

The model was developed from one that was initially created for Earth’s water clouds, extending it to include other substances and a much higher temperature range, and working on the assumption that the same physical principles guide the formation of all types of clouds, no matter where they are to be found in the Universe. One of the findings of the model was that the most dominant cloud species are those made from silicates, and ultimately this computer-generated cloud atlas will help astronomers studying the gases in the atmospheres of these exoplanets, as knowing exactly which type of clouds are present will help to correct for their interference.

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