Scientists at CERN have been throwing world-class technology and researchers at a simple question: what makes clouds form? A new paper from the so-called CLOUD group has unearthed two important discoveries concerning the effects of ionizing radiation and amine vapors on cloud formation.

Only a "negligible influence"

The latter finding sheds light on the prominent "cosmic ray" theory among climate change skeptics, which maintains that recent warming can be partially attributed to a change in the level of cosmic rays entering the earth's atmosphere. If those cosmic rays seed cloud formation, then a decline in the rays would result in a decline in global cloud cover, which would mean less light reflected back into space and a generally warmer planet. However, the results of the experiment shed doubt on the theory, showing that ionic radiation of the type found in cosmic rays has only a "negligible influence" on aerosol formation.

The other finding concerns amine, an ammonia-like vapor released in the decomposition of organic matter. The study found that even small amounts of amine vapor can combine with sulfuric acid for an enormous boost in aerosol formation — in one case, triggering a thousand times as much condensation from just a small amount of amine. It's a crucial discovery, as humans pump more and more amines into the atmosphere from raising livestock, although the larger implications still require further study.