Top Gear NASA makes their own rain clouds… in Mississippi…
That’s the title, but first the video. It is viral, and has been seen more than 212,624 times.
This video came to ClarksdaleNews last night from one of our citizens, who thought it was interesting, and it really is! (Many thanks to you, Nacquia Smith Johnson, this is a bushel of fun!)
Turns out the video actually comes from an Ireland company that sells auto, boat and RV products. The viral video is actually used as a product teaser in this case.
But, I couldn’t stop there, so a little google digging was in order. And, voila, here’s what popped up, and it comes from Forbes.com by a distinguished professor, host and Weather Channel podcaster, Dr. Marshall Shepherd.
There Is No NASA ‘Cloud Machine’ – Here’s The Real Explanation Of That Viral Video
Marshall Shepherd , Contributor
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
It seems that every few months an inaccurate science thing goes viral. For example, I wrote an article in Forbes last year debunking a ridiculous rumor that the entire month of November would be dark. This week I have noticed a video getting around social media claiming that NASA has a “cloud generating machine” at one of its space centers. Wow, this is news to me considering that I was a research meteorologist at NASA for 12 years and currently chair its Earth Science Advisory Committee. I did a little research to find that similar videos (and rumors) have been around the Internet for several years. Here is why I think it has resurfaced again and the actual science behind it.
There are many odd conspiracy theories propagated in social media that claim NASA, the federal government and others are manipulating the climate or controlling our minds using “chem-trails” or HAARP. If you google either of these, get ready for an interesting experience. My colleague Dennis Mersereau wrote an excellent piece in the Washington Post debunking these things. I am pretty sure he received some pretty interesting emails and tweets.
I suspect the reason that this viral inaccuracy has resurfaced is because NASA tested its powerful RS-25 engine on February 21 at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The RS-25 engine powered the Space Shuttle and a similar version will be used for NASA’s new Space Launch System (see image below). Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi has been a longtime test facility for such engines and is probably why these tests have generated “fake news” over the years. A NASA press release points out,
Operators powered one of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) engines up to 113 percent thrust level, the highest RS-25 power level yet achieved, during a test on Feb. 21 at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss. The test lasted 260 seconds with power levels at 113 percent for 50 seconds of the test. This was the third full-duration test conducted on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis this year. NASA has been using the stand since January 2015 to test RS-25 engines for use on its new SLS rocket. Four RS-25 engines will help power SLS at launch, supplying a combined 2 million pounds of thrust and working in conjunction with a pair of solid rocket boosters to provide more than 8 million pounds of thrust.
The exhaust from the RS-25 is primarily water vapor because the engine burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Oh…..guess what happens when they combine: You get H2O (also known as water). Therefore, the “clouds” that you see in the pictures or videos are a by-product of a very simple scientific process (see below). If the water vapor condenses, it actually may form drops large enough to fall as liquid or what appears as “rain.” By the way, it is well known in meteorology that particulates in exhausts from smokestacks and power plants can “seed” the generation of clouds. There are also efforts to try to introduce ice-forming materials into clouds to “seed” the formation of rainfall. To understand these processes, read my previous article here about rain. These methods have been proven to be inconclusive in some scientific studies, however, and the process is different from what you see in the videos that I am describing.
Oh, I should mention that NASA did conduct an interesting experiment in 2017 in which it generated “clouds” (actually vapor trails) in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This was a controlled experiment to study the ionosphere and aurora. According to the NASA press release,
During the flight of a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 4:25 and 4:42 a.m. EDT, 10 canisters about the size of a soft drink can will be deployed in the air, 6 to 12 miles away from the 670-pound main payload. The canisters will deploy between 4 and 5.5 minutes after launch forming blue-green and red artificial clouds. These clouds, or vapor tracers, allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space. The development of the multi-canister ampoule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously allowed when deploying the tracers just from the main payload……The vapor tracers are formed through the interaction of barium, strontium and cupric-oxide.
Even though I wrote this article, I suspect the “Cloud Generator Machine” viral stuff will continue every time they test the rocket engines, but at least now you know.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dir., Atmospheric Sciences Program/GA Athletic Assoc. Distinguished Professor (Univ of Georgia), Host, Weather Channel’s Popular Podcast, Weather Geeks, 2013 AMS President