CLOUD, or the Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets project, to give it its full title, is investigating the possible influence of galactic cosmic rays on Earth's clouds and climate.

In this special video report for environmentalresearchweb's sister site physicsworld.com CLOUD project leader Jasper Kirkby explains what his team is trying to achieve with its experiment. "We're trying to understand what the connection is between a cosmic ray going through the atmosphere and the creation of so-called aerosol seeds – the seed for a cloud droplet or an ice particle," Kirkby explains.

The CLOUD experiment recreates these cloud-forming processes by directing the beamline at CERN's proton synchrotron into a stainless-steel chamber containing very pure air and selected trace gases.

One of the aims of the experiment is to discover details of cloud formation that could feed back into climate models. "Everybody agrees that clouds have a huge effect on the climate. But the understanding of how big that effect is is really very poorly known," says Kirkby.