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We may finally know why clouds vanish during a solar eclipse

Published Mar 2nd, 2024 10:33AM EST
Solar Eclipse
Image: kabzarchyk / Adobe

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For years, scientists have been confused by the effect that solar eclipses have on clouds. Not all clouds, mind you. But, whenever a solar eclipse happens, and the sun is obscured even just 15 percent by the moon, cumulus clouds seem to vanish.

A group of scientists at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and Delft University of Technology set out to figure out just why solar eclipses have this effect, as understanding it will be important for validating some climate change solutions that have come up over the past few years.

Most notably, the solutions that suggest we block out parts of the sun are the ones that scientists are concerned about, especially if we can’t understand why these clouds vanish when the sun is blocked. But why is that an issue? Clouds naturally act as a reflective surface for the sun’s heat, sending it back into space.

annular eclipse over soft cloud colorful sunset skyImage source: darkfoxelixir / Adobe

As such, with fewer clouds in the sky, more of the sun’s heat would actually make it down to Earth, increasing global temperatures. So why exactly does this happen, though? Based on simulations designed to determine a solar eclipse’s effect on certain clouds, scientists believe it has to do with the ground cooling.

When the sun is blocked, the ground cools, thus creating updrafts. These updrafts cause cumulus clouds to dissipate, and then when the sun re-emerges from behind the moon, the ground warms up again, causing the updrafts to cease. When they cease, cumulus clouds are able to form again.

These findings are explained in more detail in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, and we’ll need to fully explore the effects that solar eclipses have on clouds if we want to combat climate change in any noticeable way.

Sure, throwing bubbles into space or using a giant parasol to block some of the sun’s radiation might sound good in theory. But if it just causes the temperature of the planet to rise anyway, it isn’t going to do much good.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.