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How did clouds get their names? - Richard Hamblyn

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The study of clouds has always been a daydreamer’s science, aptly founded by a thoughtful young man whose favorite activity was staring out of the window at the sky. Richard Hamblyn tells the history of Luke Howard, the man who classified the clouds and forever changed humanity’s understanding of these changeable, mysterious objects.

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  • Educator Richard Hamblyn
  • Director Nick Hilditch
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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The naming of clouds in the early 19th century had a big impact on the science of meteorology, which quickly became an organised scientific discipline. Today, the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva publishes the official cloud classification that is still based on Luke Howard's original names.

Although Luke Howard's cloud names are now more than 200 years old, the naming of clouds is still going on today, with new names being added to the official classification. The latest is the newly identified cloud 'Asperitas', from the Latin for 'roughened'. The name was thought up by the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, an international organization devoted to the study and appreciation of clouds around the world.

Luke Howard's cloud classification also had a major impact on the arts, with painters such as John Constable looking up from the landscape to examine and paint clouds with renewed attention. Constable painted more than 100 cloud studies, which are now among his most popular works. This Brainpickings essay, based on Richard Hamblyn's book, The Invention of Clouds, tells the story of Luke Howard and his revolutionary language of the skies.

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TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Richard Hamblyn
  • Director Nick Hilditch
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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