Indoor Rain Clouds

Making indoor rain clouds demonstrates the idea of temperature, the measure of how hot or cold something is. Here's how to do it:

Take two clear glasses that fit snugly together when stacked. (Cylindrical glasses with straight sides work well.)

Fill one glass half-full with ice water and the other half-full with very hot water (definitely an adult job – and take care not to shatter the glass with the hot water!). Be sure to leave enough air space for the clouds to form in the hot glass.

Place the cold glass directly on top of the hot glass and wait several minutes. If the seal holds between the glasses, a rain cloud will form just below the bottom of the cold glass, and it actually rains inside the glass! (You can use a damp towel around the rim to help make a better seal if needed.)

  • glass of ice water
  • glass of hot water (see video)
  • towel
  • adult help
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Download Student Worksheet & Exercises

Bottling Clouds

On a stormy, rainy afternoon, try bottling clouds — using the refrigerator! Here's what you do: Place an empty, clean 2-liter soda bottle in the fridge overnight. Take it out and get an adult to light a match, letting it burn for a few seconds, then drop it into the bottle. Immediately cap the bottle and watch what happens (you should see smoke first, then clouds forming inside). Squeeze the sides of the bottle. The clouds should disappear. When you release the bottle, the clouds should reappear. Materials:
  • 2L soda bottle
  • rubbing alcohol
  • bicycle pump
  • car tire valve (drill a 1/2 inch hole through a 2L soda bottle cap and pull the valve gently through with pliers)

Advanced Idea: You can substitute rubbing alcohol and a bicycle pump for the matches to make a more solid-looking cloud.  Swirl a bit of rubbing alcohol around inside the bottle, just enough to coat the insides, and then pour it out.  Cap your bottle with a rubber stopper fitted with a needle valve (so the valve is poking out of the bottle), and apply your pump.  Increase the pressure inside the bottle (keep a firm hand on the stopper or you'll wind up firing it at someone) with a few strokes and pull out the stopper quickly.  You should see a cloud form inside.

What's going on? Invisible water vapor is all around us, all the time, but they normally don't stick together. When you squeezed the sides of the bottle, you increased the pressure and squeezed the molecules  together.  Releasing the bottle decreases the pressure, which causes the temperature to drop. When it cools inside, the water molecules stick to the smoke molecules, making a visible cloud inside your bottle.

Did you know that most drops of water actually form around a dust particle?  Up in the sky, clouds come together when water vapor condenses into liquid water drops or ice crystals. The clouds form when warm air rises and the pressure is reduced (as you go up in altitude). The clouds form at the spot where the temperature drops below the dew point.

The alcohol works better than the water because it evaporates faster than water does, which means it moves from liquid to vapor more easily (and vividly) than regular old water.

Questions to ask:
  • How many times can you repeat this?
  • Does it matter what size the bottle is?
  • What if you don’t chill the bottle?
  • What if you freeze the bottle instead?
  1. Which combination made it rain the best? Why did this work?
  2. Draw your experimental diagram, labeling the different components:
  3. Add in labels for the different phases of matter. Can you identify all three states of matter in your experiment?

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