Gallery TEDTalks

The joy of cloudspotting: 10 incredible visions in clouds

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

A “cloud on the horizon” means that something bad is about to happen. Meanwhile, someone with their “head in the clouds” is thoroughly out to lunch. As Gavin Pretor-Pinney points out in today’s talk, clouds get a bad rep when it comes to language.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney: Cloudy with a chance of joy Gavin Pretor-Pinney: Cloudy with a chance of joy “But I think they’re beautiful, don’t you?” he says. “It’s just that their beauty is missed because they’re so omnipresent, so commonplace that people don’t notice them … unless they get in the way of the sun.”

Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society and, in this talk, he asks each of us to do something we excelled at when we were kids — looking up at the clouds and letting our imaginations run wild. He shows many evocative cloud formations — some created by specific, named types of clouds — and calls on us all to take part in this global Rorschach test. To that end, the Cloud Appreciation Society (which has 32,000+ members) last week released a CloudSpotter iPhone app that allows people to capture and share their own cloud images. Bonus: NASA will use anonymous data from the app to help calibrate its cloud-observing satellites.

Below, Pretor-Pinney (and a few guests) shares a few cloud images with the TED Blog.

A heart-shaped cloud, spotted by Angelo Storari of Ancona, Italy.

A heart-shaped cloud, spotted by Angelo Storari of Ancona, Italy.

A fish in the sky, spotted by Gavin Tobin of the Blasket Islands in Ireland.

A fish in the sky, spotted by Gavin Tobin of the Blasket Islands in Ireland.

Spotted by Andrew Kirk of Deep Springs, California.

Spotted by Andrew Kirk of Deep Springs, California.

A cloud in the shape of a UFO, spotted by Ron Biggs in Puerto de la Cruz in Spain.

A cloud in the shape of a UFO, spotted by Ron Biggs in Puerto de la Cruz in Spain.

Spotted by Ron Engels over Central Brazil.

Spotted by Ron Engels over Central Brazil.

Clouds, in wave form. Spotted by Laurine Ayers Briel in Maui, Hawaii.

Clouds, in wave form. Spotted by Laurine Ayers Briel in Maui, Hawaii.

Another odd shape indeed, seen by Danny McNeal of Sacramento, California.

Another odd shape indeed, with bonus prismatic effect, seen by Danny McNeal of Sacramento, California.

Some clouds over Mount Rainier, snapped by Ryan Verwest.

Some clouds that mimic mountains, over Mount Rainier, Washington, snapped by Ryan Verwest.

Clouds that look like an explosion, spotted by Mick Ohrberg in Kansas City, Missouri.

A natural mushroom cloud, spotted by Mick Ohrberg in Kansas City, Missouri.

A cloud waves goodbye, spotted by our own Katherine McCartney in Kenya.

A cloud waves goodbye, spotted by our own Katherine McCartney in Kenya.