Clouds have inspired poets since immemorial times and they’ve even puzzled scientists – it almost seems like there’s something out of this world about them. If you think that’s true, just wait until you see these amazing clouds.

Mammatus clouds

Photo by NOAA. All images CC BY 3.0

These pouch-like clouds seem to be the harbringers of thunderstorms or tornadoes and (in many cases) that’s exactly what they are. They form after a long and warm periods and the intensely sheared environment in which Mammatus forms makes them every aviator’s nightmare.

Photo by Craig Lindsay.

Altocumulus Castelanus

These jellyfish clouds are formed a mass of moist air moves fast from the Gulf Stream and gets trapped between two layers of dry air. The part from the top rises while the evaporated rain drops form the lower part of the cloud.

Photo by Bidgee.

Arcus clouds

They are the result a cold front of air or a thundestorm front, or of microburst activity. What happens is the cooler air sinks and spreads across the cloud and the outflow prevents the warm air from being drawn in the storm updraft and the cool air lifts the warm moist air, water condenses creating a cloud which often rolls with the different winds above and below (by wikipedia)
These clouds have two main categories:

a) Roll clouds
Roll clouds seem to be taken out of a new Stargate series or some Sci-Fi series and they’re truly an amazing sight.

Photo by Daniela Mirner Eber.


And a video:

b) Shelf clouds
The main difference from roll clouds is that shelf clouds are attached to the base of the parent cloud, which as you could have guess, means thunderstorm. They look just as impressive:




Nacreous clouds

Photo by NASA.

Nacreous clouds are also known as Polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) and they are formed in the winter polar stratosphere and they have a big impact in creating ozone holes as they further contribute to the depletion of ozone by supporting chemical reactions that produce active chlorine which catalyzes ozone destruction. Bad, bad clouds!

Also called mother of pearl clouds or sun dogs, these rare clouds are rarely seen, but once you do, you most definitely won’t forget them. But if you haven’t, here are some videos.

Noctilucent clouds

Photo by Kevin Cho.

In all fairness, noctilucent clouds should actually be called cloud-like phenomena as they are formed at very big altitudes, from 76 to 85 km (even 100 km by some), making them the highest formed phenomena that could be called clouds; yeah, they are formed on the border between our atmosphere and space. They are extremely rare and usually, even when visible, very very faint.

Photo by Ireen Trummer.

Their seem to be very luminous, but what they actually do is reflect the sunlight from the other side of the earth at night.


Mushroom clouds

Last but most definitely not least, we have mushroom clouds; these very distinctive clouds are the result of smoke, condensed water vapor, or other similar substances after an explosion or eruption. They are especially known from nuclear explosions, but any big enough blast can form them, including natural sources.



Enjoyed this story? Like ZME Science on facebook:
Independent science reporting, always spot on. Join ZME Science's daily newsletter

You Might Also Like

  • The last cloud picture with a cloud over mount fuji is not a mushroom cloud. It is a Lenticular cloud.

  • Paul

    That last picture is actually a lenticular cloud.

  • Bacon

    The last cloud (mushroomclouds3.jpg) appears to be more of a lenticular cloud, you might want to check that out.

    Other than that, this is a great post.

  • I humbly apologize and stand corrected. Thanks guys, you rock

  • Pingback: Seven Types of Rare and Amazing Clouds | Mick Landers()

  • hi mom

  • these were awesome pictures

  • Very very nice pictures.Especially those Mammatus clouds , i haven’t seen anything like this in reality till now

  • Pingback: Anonymous()

  • Incredible photos. The shelf clouds look ominous.

  • some of the clouds are results of chemicals aerially sprayed a few days before. New types of clouds now why would that be? Chemicals are changing the atmosphere and higher. Sad but true. I do not speak of clouds from eruptions or northpole type aurora borealus phenomena

  • The roll and bubble clouds would be an interesting yet frightening site.

  • Mother

    Humbly Sir, I must correct your wonderfully imaginative incaccuracies. In the first picture, you have incorrectly identified the feasting belly of the mother ship, as it lowers it’s feeding-udder-like protuberances to your lower atmosphere, where it delights on your early morning smog. In the second picture, what you see as jellyfish clouds are merely our dear mothership taking an “exhaust break” – what is termed in your vernacular, a “fart”. The third picture, (beautiful, no?) the roll clouds are merely “Mother” spinning off into the horizon, having a bit of fun, and if she has a bit of indigestion, it settles in your lower atmosphere looking like a “shelf”. Sigh, you guys had better clean up your air, where’s a UFO to get a good meal these days. As for the colored versions, you can be sure that’s when we lowered the udders over any place inhabited by majijuana smokers – what a treat for us!
    Sincerely, Mother

  • Sean The Goth and the ruler of darkness

    Glad I found this awesome website. I love this stuff.

  • Pingback: totally awesome natural phenomena you probably didn’t know about | ZME Science()

  • Pingback: Oh Em Gee « The Chronicles of Constance()

  • Pingback: 7 types of rare and amazing clouds -

  • I took a few pictures of some of the first type, the Mammatus clouds, as they rolled in over southeast Kansas recently. The pictures can be found at if you’d like to see them.

  • Kurt

    I always photograph clouds that are unusual, and I’ve seen a few in my day. These were interesting.

  • Pingback: “Got Patch?”()

  • Pingback: Webparade - Il meglio del Web » Blog Archive » Nuvole strane()

  • Ders

    Amazing pics!

    I actually saw the Mammatus clouds here in Ireland last month and was very freaked out by them! My friend and I had never seen anything like it, and as the weather had been very hot, and it was now a clammy but cloudy day we were convinced these clouds meant some big ass storm was on the way.

    Apparently we were right but they passed out to sea so… :)

  • Pingback: Impactiviti Daily 082109 « Impactiviti blog()

  • Pingback: 8 examples of photometeors w/ pics | ZME Science()

  • Wow, those clouds almost look 3d created in some cases. Nature is such an amazing thing, one of my personal favorite clouds to look at are HTC clouds.

  • burnout

    Mother sounds like an interesting Girl to talk to!!
    Speak to me Mother.

  • The roll and bubble clouds would be an interesting yet frightening site.
    “Mother sounds like an interesting Girl to talk to!!
    Speak to me Mother.”

  • Thank you alot for the great post!
    Here, I found a youtube video about xbox live hacks, that I would like to share: Xbox live hacks!.
    but seriously, great post and thank you allot !
    i look ahead to your next article !!

  • WoW. Some of those look very scary. Seems like a storm is abrewin’ in most of them. I never knew there were actual names for these kinds of clouds though. Very interesting

  • I

  • Your website is loading quite slow for me. Might just be my isp but i am not sure… anyways . It helps me a lot, thanks heaps. Will definitely bookmark your blog for future reference :)

  • Your site is loading very slow for me. Might just be my isp but i don’t know… anyways great read. Very helpful, thanks heaps. Will be sure to bookmark your blog for future reference :)

  • Hello! I want to say thanks for an interesting site about a subject I have had an interest in for a long time now. I have been lurking and reading the posts avidly so just wanted to express my thanks for providing me with some very good reading material. I look forward to more, and taking a more active part in the discussions here.

  • Hi all, just found this here when i did a fast yahoo search. Fine website you have here! Keep it up!

  • Me, I really wish I were able to write like you do on your blog, please write much more as you have a new fan right here

  • Really interesting – always spread your message. Getting excited about an update. For too long now have I had the need to begin my personal blog. Suppose if I wait around any longer I will never do it. I’ll make sure to include you in my Blogroll. Thanks again!!

  • I seriously can’t believe it. I pray Rooney is not injured for the world cup!

  • Download the MW2 Aimbot, and Wallhack at my site!

  • Hello there there I like your article

  • Hey cloud dudes. Those are some amazing cloud formations around the world. Wish I was there at the time. Anyway, check out my rare photo of Mount Fuji from 1998 with a mushroom formation over the peak.

    go to Facebook, Peter Hlaing copyright 2010

  • Vguvsitgso

    WHAT THE ______?!

  • Vbhgybuyiknjioihuj

    Rehab fight tvfhrty

  • Vbhgybuyiknjioihuj

    Red idiot

  • Roll plus mamatus


    This one was posted today July 13 2015