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There are plenty of experiments, usually geared toward kids, that involve "making a cloud in a bottle" or something similar. These exercises are neat for what they are, but pale in comparison to the beauty of real clouds. Really you're just making fog in a bottle.

Using currently available (preferably consumer grade) technology, is it possible to create real clouds? Or even better, a real weather system? Imagine you have an enclosed 10 ft wide cube. If you build a landscape inside, complete with mountains and bodies of water, and you have complete control over the boundary conditions of the cube (temperature, airflow in/out, etc.), can you reproduce the beauty of a towering cumulus cloud inside the cube? One step further... can you create thunderstorms?

I have a very rudimentary understanding of how weather works, but the engineer in me says in theory this should be possible. But in reality a lot of small details glare out at me as possible show stoppers. Aerodynamics does not scale, because of the constant size of air molecules at all scales. I suspect this limitation may affect my weather system puzzle as well. Also with respect to thunderstorms, I suspect the 10 ft wide cube may not be able to mimic the role of planetary grounding, atmosphere, etc., in the creation of electric discharges.

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  • $\begingroup$ Seems like some overlap with this post: earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/2300/… . I'm curious to see what people come up with! $\endgroup$ – farrenthorpe Nov 17 '14 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ It is my understanding the VAB requires weather control to prevent storms from forming inside; however I cannot find a reference right now. If someone can find a reference, easy rep. DELETE ME answer already posted. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Nov 17 '14 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ There are plenty of instances of clouds and lightning forming inside large aircraft hangers. edit: ninja'd by comments below. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Nov 17 '14 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft I don't see any comments about lightning. That would definitely end the debate about whether or not the rain is true rain or condensation from ceiling. Would be interested if you have more on that... $\endgroup$ – The111 Nov 18 '14 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ @The111 That may be my false memory. If I can find a ref'nce I'll post it up. Maybe it's just that they put spark arresters inside just to take care of any atmospheric static charge. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Nov 18 '14 at 12:42
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Real clouds are beautiful because they are huge and you observe them from far away, thereby gaining the ability to see a distinct "boundary" and, therefore, shape. But if you ever travel through a cloud in a plane, thereby seeing one close up, you'll find that they really are "just fog". You'd struggle to recreate a scale cloud in a tiny environment; water molecules have a reasonably consistent size and you can't just downscale the entire system.

Similarly, you could probably create a thunderstorm but at that scale it would be over so fast you'd barely see it. An obvious example is the movement of water droplets as steam leaves your kettle and condenses. You just see a quick whoosh of vapour particles spiralling about and, well, that's about as close to a rainstorm as you'll get.

Some phenomena, such as air vortices, can manifest at smaller scales — I've seen more than a few mini-tornados forming in my garden dragging leaves around in a funnel fashion — but I'm not sure you'd ever be able to contain enough energy to see that happen for more than a fraction of a second in a small tube.

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    $\begingroup$ clarification: you cannot see water vapor with your eyes... you see liquid water that has condensed around nuclei. $\endgroup$ – farrenthorpe Nov 17 '14 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @farrenthorpe: ahhhhh and I was so deliberate not to say "steam"! $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 17 '14 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ From inside a cloud does appear like fog. But you can be very close to the outside of a cloud and still see its texture. See one of many such photos I've taken here. So scale is still a bigger concern than proximity. But Berndnaut Smilde made very convincing cumulus clouds at a small scale, seeded with smoke. But his only lived for fractions of a second. Is this because conditions in the room equalize too quickly? Could controlling boundary conditions extend the duration? $\endgroup$ – The111 Nov 18 '14 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ @The111: It's because, in general, larger phenomena appear to us to progress more slowly than smaller ones, simply due to the scale involved. The fact that geological timescales are so vast is a perfect example of that. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 18 '14 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ "Real clouds are beautiful because they are huge and you observe them from far away" - this is [the sublime]. Humans have been trying to re-create it for hundreds, if not thousands of years. We aren't very good at it. $\endgroup$ – naught101 Jan 13 '15 at 2:07
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One of quite elegant physical demonstrations by Robert W. Wood involved re-creating a tornado in a lecture hall.

Source (quoting from memory):

Seabrook, W. Doctor Wood, Modern Wizard of the Laboratory. New York, 1941.

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I recall reading on a couple of occasions how a very large NASA hangar exhibited a phenomenon of 'raining indoors.' It was no roof leak, either, because it could be a cloudless night and it would still happen. Supposedly, there were actually clouds forming inside the building.

Here is an article about it:

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-03/nasa-and-us-navy-pledge-save-silicon-valleys-massive-airship-hangar

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    $\begingroup$ -1 Popular science articles are often poorly written, and more often misinterpreted. With sudden temperature drops and relatively high humidity, water condenses on the walls and ceilings inside the room, rather than a forming a "raining cloud". One could call water dripping from the ceiling "rain", if they wish. $\endgroup$ – milancurcic Nov 17 '14 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ The building has at least 10,000 tons of air conditioning equipment, including 125 ventilators on the roof supported by four large air handlers (four cylindrical structures west of the building) to keep moisture under control. Air in the building can be completely replaced every hour. The interior volume of the building is so vast that it has its own weather, including "rain clouds form[ing] below the ceiling on very humid days", which the moisture reduction systems are designed to minimize. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_Assembly_Building $\endgroup$ – farrenthorpe Nov 17 '14 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Nov. 2004 - Tom Solinski writes: "In a recently published biograpy of Karl Arnstien -- the man behind the design of the Airships Akron and Macon and the Air Dock created to build and house them -- Karl points out that under the right conditions it got very humid, to the point of misting, but never raining in the Dock. A rumor that has been out of proportion since 1929." $\endgroup$ – farrenthorpe Nov 17 '14 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ The building in question is the vertical assembly building at NASA, built to assemble the Saturn V rockets. $\endgroup$ – casey Nov 17 '14 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Octopus I don't question water condensation and formation of mist inside the VAB. I simply disagree that there is any rain formation in a real meteorological sense. Water will condense on the surface of the ceiling before anywhere else. The physical process needed to sustain raindrop formation through coalescence - vertical motion of air - is simply not there. $\endgroup$ – milancurcic Nov 17 '14 at 23:35
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The artist Berndnaut Smilde regularly creates fairly large clouds inside buildings. An example:

Nimbus II, 2012 Digital C-type Print 75 x 112 cm Hotel MariaKapel, Hoorn, Netherlands Nimbus II, 2012 Digital C-type Print 75 x 112 cm Hotel MariaKapel, Hoorn, Netherlands

The clouds are a combination of aerogel and condensed water vapour, but I'm not sure exactly how they are made. The clouds typically only last long enough to get a couple of photos. I think the realism has a lot to do with the lighting.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I referenced his work in another comment... they actually only live fractions of a second. But I doubt the boundary conditions of his room are as explicitly controlled as I am considering... $\endgroup$ – The111 Jan 13 '15 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ True, I missed that part of that comment. No, they aren't. Sounds like that would be a pretty complex system to figure out and set up.. $\endgroup$ – naught101 Jan 14 '15 at 4:28
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Yes it is possible to build a structure similar to what you describe, and this is exactly what some researchers use to study cloud formation and the processes that operate within them. The other answers and comments have established that re-creating full-scale weather systems is probably out of the question, but meteorological cloud chambers exist for recreating certain weather phenomena. You ask about "preferably consumer grade" examples, but since all of these types of apparatus are effectively custom built to an extent, you could potentially create a "consumer-grade" version (just don't necessarily expect research grade data from your efforts!).

From a research point of view, they are used mainly for studying microphysical processes within clouds: condensation of ice nuclei, chemical interactions between molecules in clouds, snow formation, ice-crystal riming, thunderstorm electrification, and so on. As you point out in the question, the down-scaling issue means they aren't suited to reproducing large-scale weather features, although the limit is as big as you care to build it I suppose...

Here's a link to a research grade ice cloud chamber, used at the University of Manchester, UK. There are some excellent photos of how it is put together (unfortunately I don't have permission to put them here). Essentially it is a 10m tall steel chamber, which can be cooled down to about -55 centigrade. The pressure can be lowered to simulate conditions in the upper troposphere (about 50hPa). It has been used on occasion to reproduce the conditions in thunderstorm electrification.

Here's a video of a home-made cloud chamber in action (again, it is imitating small scale features and processes in clouds, not weather systems per se.), and a simple diagram of how it is set up: Cloud chamber diagramAlcohol is used here, since it evaporates and condenses much more readily than water. The dry ice at the base cools the lower section of the chamber, creating a temperature gradient within the chamber. The alcohol droplets will evaporate from the strips forming a fog (cloud) at the top, then condense as they hit the cool air, forming gentle rain droplets nearer the base. Here's a link to more detailed instructions.

Something in between these kind of set-ups is the closest you will come to re-creating 'real' clouds at home. They won't have the beauty of a towering cumulus over a mountain range (although some say there is beauty in cloud microphysical processes.)

Annecdote 1: At the EGU 2014 Annual Conference in Vienna, the organisers created a series of rooms that you could walk through and experience being inside a cloud.

Annecdote 2: Incidentally the first person to create a 'weather chamber' was CTR Wilson, trying to reproduce the cloud formations he had seen on Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands. His invention actually led to the discovery of ionizing radiation. http://www-outreach.phy.cam.ac.uk/camphy/cloudchamber/cloudchamber_index.htm

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers a rotating tank setup. This so-called 'weather tank' enables a large set of experiments demonstrating a wide range of phenomena that occur in the atmosphere and ocean. Adding different food dyes into the rotating tank makes it possible to visualize the phenomena, sometimes producing beautifully looking cloud-like structures. I once had the opportunity to show a few experiments to kids, and their responses were overwhelmingly positive.

See their website for more information and instructions.

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I think it would be have to be air tight I'm trying my own theory out but much smaller. I'm gonna try out how the flat earth idea is where there is water above. So basically the idea is I'm gonna put a plant in dirt alive an growing inside a glass sphere that's round along with the needed gases. And submerge it under water if nothing happens after so long I'll put bugs inside if nothing else happens then something bigger an so on n so forth.

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You just need a big enough space,. and you need freezing cold air at the top of it, then warmer air at the bottom, and water vapour, that condenses. Then you might get rain, even snow forming depending on the temperatures. Is the conditions right you even get clouds. Now If you want to create a thunderstorm, you need air movement as well, upward ,downward, sideways and so on. And you defnitely need to produce hail and strong rain. In theory its probably possible, but its very very costly (you need a large scale building/hangar or dome, Nasa has one ;)) and very very expensive equipment to make it work, on the other hand once you have it, you have created something no one else has ever built) and you can control the weather in your closed environment.

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