Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Laton. Laton Wonders, “what are lenticular clouds” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Laton!

What’s that strange sight high up there in the sky? It doesn’t look like a bird. Could it be an airplane? Maybe it’s a UFO! Nope! None of the above—what we’re looking at is a cloud.

It’s not just any type of cloud, though. If it looks a bit like a UFO, it’s probably a lenticular cloud. These get their name from the fact that they’re shaped like a lens or a saucer.

Some people call lenticular clouds “flying saucer clouds.” And for good reason! More than one has been mistaken for a UFO. Some other nicknames for lenticular clouds include “cloudships,” “clouds of heaven,” and “lennies.” They also have a fancy scientific name: Altocumulus lenticularis.

Lenticular clouds may look like they’re from outer space. But they’re actually the result of normal scientific processes that happen right here on Earth! They are stationary clouds that form at high altitudes. They’re usually aligned at a right angle (perpendicular) to the direction of the wind.

This type of cloud often forms near mountain ranges. When stable humid air blows over the top of a mountain, it can form a group of big waves on the range’s downwind side. If the temperature is low enough on this side, the moisture in the air will condense. This forms the uniquely-shaped clouds we know as lenticular clouds.

In the right conditions, these can form what scientists call a “wave cloud.” Lenticular clouds are also unique in that sometimes you may see bright colors—what scientists call irisation—along their edges. This helps give them an outer space look!

Airplane pilots try to avoid flying near lenticular clouds. The waves of air that form the clouds can cause turbulence. That can make riding in an airplane near lenticular clouds a bouncy, scary experience.

Many people who fly gliders, however, love lenticular clouds. The same air currents that can make flying in an airplane scary allow gliders to sail to great heights and long distances.

Have you ever seen a lenticular cloud? Did you think it looked like a UFO? These clouds can be quite the sight high up in the sky!

Standards: NGSS.ESS2.D, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

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