While browsing my Facebook feed this morning, I came across a video shared by a former high school classmate who showed a giant NASA machine that was supposed to produce artificial clouds. The video features former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson speaking in front of a large metal camera that throws white fluffy feathers. The video, titled "Artificial Clouds Generation System," makes it appear that the machine is producing clouds, but the rocket motors that generate the feathers are not mentioned.
My former classmate is not the only one who watches this video either. It has already been shared more than 350,000 times and got over 71,000 likes. Also, it is not the only video that uses Jeremy Clarkson to claim that NASA is pumping clouds. A quick Google search of "NASA's Top Gear Engine Test" brings a lot of videos that say NASA has figured out how to modify the weather. But NASA does not.
The video is actually an edited clip of two different rocket engine tests at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi
The video is actually an edited clip of two different rocket engine tests at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The first seconds show the test launch of an RS-25, an engine that was used in the space shuttle and will be used to power NASA's next big rocket, the Space Launch System. The last part of the clip belongs to a 2001 BBC television series entitled "Speed," presented by Clarkson. In the images, Clarkson attends the firing test of an RS-68, according to NASA (although a YouTube video from Top Gear incorrectly says it is in a rocket booster test). It is an engine used in the family of Delta IV rockets manufactured by United Launch Alliance. However, the engines can not be seen in the video; they are hidden by the test stands.
The clip that circulates on Facebook leaves out the part of the BBC video where Clarkson describes that he is on an engine test. Instead, it only focuses on the part where it talks about the clouds that occur in the process. (These clouds are just really hot steam).
The rocket motors that are tested in the video work with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants. When these two materials combine and combustion in an engine, they create large clouds of steam that exceed 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. During a launch, viewers can see these escape columns behind a rocket as it ascends into the sky. But when you test a rocket engine on the ground in Stennis, the test bench causes the booms to shoot horizontally to the ground.
The really good thing about the steam produced by this type of engine testing is that it can generate rain in the vicinity, which Clarkson experiences in the video. The steam rises after the test and cools in the air. Then it becomes water again and it rains on the surrounding passers-by. However, that is not the objective of the test bench, something that the false video eludes. Instead, that rain is just a (lovely) side effect of the engine test. And since the clouds are just water, the feathers are not polluting the atmosphere.
So, why is this video circulating now? Well, it was shared on April 1, so maybe it was an elaborate joke by the Innocents that people are now taking seriously. However, the video also contains a watermark in the upper right corner that says "email@example.com". That seems … suspicious.
So, if you see this emerging in your News Feed, you should only know that NASA does not have a machine dedicated to producing clouds. But technically a rocket engine test can sometimes make it rain.