Cloud swirls off the Canary Islands • Earth.com

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features trails of distinctive clouds off the coast of the Canary Islands. These cloud swirls, called von Kármán vortices, are formed when a fluid passes a tall, isolated object like a mountain. 

“The atmosphere and the ocean are fluids, both in constant motion. This motion is not always visible to the naked eye, but in the atmosphere, clouds can act like fingerprints for the movement of air,” explains NASA.

“Von Kármán vortices routinely appear in satellite imagery. They can occur whenever an object interrupts air flow. In this case, they occurred as winds rushed past the tall volcanic peaks of the Canary Islands. Cloud vortices are often spotted downwind of isolated islands including near Guadalupe Island, near the coast of Chile, and in the Indian Ocean.”

Professor Theodore von Kármán of the California Institute of Technology was the first to describe how the swirling cloud patterns are formed. He was also one of the principal founders of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The image was captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor on the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/ Allison Nussbaum

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