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Odd 'Cartoon' Cloud Spotted by Satellite Over the Caspian Sea

The NASA Earth Observatory team calls it "more peculiar than most."

A white oval-ish cloud with definied edges floats above a dark-blue sea with green land to the left and desert land to the right.
A distinctive cloud appeared over the Caspian Sea on May 28, 2022.
Joshua Stevens/MODIS/NASA EOSDIS LANCE/GIBS/Worldview

NASA's Earth-watching Terra satellite peered down from space on May 28 and caught sight of something unusual floating over the Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland body of water. A wild cloud appeared, and it looked like an artist had a hand in its design.

The NASA Earth Observatory team shared the cloud as an Image of the Day on Thursday, calling it "more peculiar than most" and saying it had "well-defined edges resembling something from a cartoon." The cloud stretched across about 60 miles (100 kilometers) at an altitude of around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). 

A closer look at the peculiar cloud shows its cartoonlike nature.

Joshua Stevens/MODIS/NASA EOSDIS LANCE/GIBS/Worldview

Atmospheric scientist Bastiaan van Diedenhoven at the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research took a look at the goofy cloud and determined it was a small stratocumulus, a sort of hybrid between a puffy, fluffy cumulus cloud and a spread-out stratus cloud. 

According to van Diedenhoven, the formation's sharp, cartoonlike edges could've come from how it formed when warm, dry air from land ran into cold, moist air over the sea. The scientist said the same phenomenon has been observed off the west coast of Africa at much larger scales.

The cloud floated from its early morning perch above the Caspian over to land, where it dissipated. 

This cloud reminded me of my childhood wonder over the weather and how I tried to learn the names of clouds and then spot them in the sky. Cumulus, cirrus, stratus and nimbus stuck with me over the years, and now I can bring stratocumulus back into my vocabulary.