One of the most remarkable images of our planet has always been how dynamic the atmosphere is a photo of the Earth taken from space usually shows swirling masses of white wispy clouds, circling and moving constantly. So what are these graceful puffs that can both frustrate astronomers and excite photographers simultaneously?

Clouds are frozen ice crystals or white liquid water that you can see with your eyes. Scientists who study clouds go into a field of science called nephology, which is a specialized area of meteorology. Clouds don’t have to be made up of water – they can be any visible puff and can have all three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) existing within the cloud formation. For example, Jupiter has two cloud decks: the upper are water clouds, and the lower deck are ammonia clouds.

We’re going to learn how to build a weather instrument that will record whether (weather?) the day was sunny or cloudy using a very sensitive piece of paper. Are you ready?

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  • Sun print paper or other paper sensitive to light
  • Film canister or soup can
  • Drill with drill bit
  • Scissors
  • Sunlight


The paper from a sun print kit has a very special coating that makes the paper react to light. Most sun print kits use set of light-sensitive chemicals such as potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate to make a cyanotype solution. The paper changes color when exposed to UV light. In fact, you can try exposing the paper to different colors and see which changes the paper the most over a set amount of time!

The last step of this chemical process is to ‘set’ the reaction by washing it in plain water – this keeps the image on the paper so it doesn’t all disappear when you hang it on the wall. After the paper dries, the area exposed to UV light turns blue, and everything shaded turns white.

You can use sun print paper to test how well your sunblock works – just smear your favorite sunscreen over a sheet (or put a couple dabs of each kind) and see how well the paper stays protected: if it turns white, the light is getting through. If it stays blue, the sunscreen blocked the light!


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