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I'm not talking about the ISS. I'm talking about larger stations such as Bernal Spheres, O'Neil Cylinders, Stanford Tori, good old-fashioned hollowed-out asteroids, and so on.

We have a sci-fi game and one of our narrative designers has a mission idea that requires a storm inside the station. I'm decent at checking their science, but I know nothing about meteorology and this seems pretty unlikely. That being said, I've not the foggiest clue.

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    $\begingroup$ Earth is a large space station that seems to have weather. $\endgroup$ – B.fox Oct 31 '18 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ A "storm" consists of a number of different, related phenomena, and it's not clear if you need them all. Off the top of my head: precipitation, high winds, electrical discharges. There's probably some shenanigans which could produce just one of those without being "weather" proper. $\endgroup$ – Roger Oct 31 '18 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @B.fox It's too big to be a space station. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Oct 31 '18 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ The book Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke includes a great segment with a storm inside of a large O'Neil Cylinder. I highly recommend reading at least that bit of the book for inspiration. $\endgroup$ – tvanc Oct 31 '18 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Andreas the Death Star was around the size of a small moon -- that didn't stop it being a fully-armed and operational battle(space)station. $\endgroup$ – 0xdd Oct 31 '18 at 21:11
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You can get a micro-climate in your space station caused by temperature differentials and convection. But the orders of energy and energy differentials needed to produce a proper storm are immense. The energy differentials in your space stations are by far not enough to induce a naturally occurring draft sufficient to be called a storm, unless yours is hundreds of kilometers wide and has sufficient open space to allow atmospheric convection to occur, but these kinds of circumstances are generally undesired in a controlled environment like space stations.

The only real way to achieve high winds would be artificially, say, the air system is going completely haywire. Or there is a hull breach so air is sucked out at high velocity. Or your space station could even have a wind tunnel of all things (though only god knows why that would be there...)

In every other situation the best you could hope for are some drafts due thermally induced convection or pressurization working better/worse at some parts of your station thus causing pressure differentials.

I hope this helps you.

Thunderstorm Under the "energy" section you can see how much energy a single thunderstorm takes.

Energy levels and comparison of different events Here are several events, from a very small scale to a cosmic scale listed. If you have that much rogue energy floating around in your space station that something like this could occur, something has gone wrong.

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    $\begingroup$ I came to mention the hull breach option, having remembered the "eye storms" in Ringworld $\endgroup$ – Ash Oct 31 '18 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ A wind tunnel in a large space station would be useful to a space station that designs and/or builds craft that is expected to visit other locations that contain an atmosphere. Seems plausible to me. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Oct 31 '18 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Care to explain how this answer is wrong then? Because to my knowledge there are indeed man made structures currently that are large enough to have their own weather, and they aren't kilometers long. It does not appear that OP needs electrical discharge as a criteria for a storm. $\endgroup$ – opa Oct 31 '18 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @opa: But I'm pretty sure you need more volume and energy than what can be found in a 3,665,000 m3 structure that occasionally produces some small clouds at the top of the structure when the weather outside the building is humid. Honestly, I'm not sure what NASA's VAB has to do with this answer, or even the question itself. If you launched the VAB into space, it would stop producing clouds unless you decided to let a whole lot of water evaporate. But even then, that's a really far cry from a storm which is what the question is looking for. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Oct 31 '18 at 22:24
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To sustain a storm for the length of your mission, you need external inputs of energy. You could use a Solar storm.

https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/phenomena/geomagnetic-storms

solar storm

During storms, the currents in the ionosphere, as well as the energetic particles that precipitate into the ionosphere add energy in the form of heat that can increase the density and distribution of density in the upper atmosphere, causing extra drag on satellites in low-earth orbit.

What would a solar storm hitting your large station entail? Here is what I can think of.

  • Aurorae. That happens on earth and might happen in your station as well. It would look cool and if this is a video game, offers to possibility of sweet light effects.

  • Charged particles. This is the reason for the aurora but if they get to the ground they could mess things up. This is part of how solar storms mess up electronics on earth. In your game you could have the lights go out and computers be unreliable.

    • Lightning. If the upper atmosphere of your station is accumulating charge, it will want to equilibrate. There could be lightning strikes.

So far this storm has wild color effects, the lights go out and you might get hit by lightning. It would be quiet. Which could be cool for a game because it would be eerie.

  • Wind. This requires another step. Wind on earth usually means heat differentials with air of one temperature displacing air of another. How to get heat differentials like that in your station? Unless you have enough incoming radiation to heat the air up that much (a lot!) you need another method for creating heat. You can have the station radiation defense generate heat - protecting the occupants by capturing radiation and discharging it as heat. The system uses the interior as the heat sink; the air and maybe a large body of water which serves multiple purposes. The engineers did not anticipate a solar storm of this magnitude and the heat produced by the system is enough to make wind; the steam coming off of the reservoir can blow around in fog clouds on the ground; I am hoping this is a video game because these clouds will look awesome in the aurora.
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The Stanford Torus design is too small in volume to generate real weather; the tube that actually has atmosphere is only a kilometer or two across. Bernal Spheres especially with their 8 kilometer radius and the larger, Type 3, O'Neil Cylinders (4km radius) are a different story; they're built on a scale that actually supports atmospheric differentiation. They have the potential to generate Earthlike weather systems where there are sufficient, and sufficiently differentiated, thermal inputs.

Type 3 O'Neil Cylinders with their window strip/land strip design and rotational gravity are a good case for real stormy weather. Their land surfaces will heat up and create convection systems of air and water vapour which have the potential to cause thunderstorms.

Bernal Spheres would appear to show more of a case for a cyclic fog-cloud-rain-repeat weather pattern, either time or location based depending on the exact parameters being used in the design, due to the polar heating and lighting set up.

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Even the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA Kennedy Space Center is large enough to have weather, and it's considerably smaller than all but the smallest space stations -- maybe twice the length and breadth of the ISS, though much deeper.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you know if the VAB has ever had something that could be considered a storm? If you launched the VAB into space, would it still allow clouds to condense at the top? $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Oct 31 '18 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ You'd be looking at gentle rain, not a dramatic storm. $\endgroup$ – Robyn Nov 1 '18 at 1:40
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In Sir Arthur C. Clarke's classic science fiction book Rendezvous with Rama, Clarke posited a mammoth long-orbit station/probe/biosphere which is a 20 kilometer diameter, 54 kilometer long cylinder.

The inner cylindrical surface is the living space, and at the rearmost axial endpoint there are strange immense projections, around which immense electrical displays occur when the device is using drive power (the implication is that these are byproducts or residual energies) and these have the secondary impact of creating weather - storms, inclement weather etc.

Though the alien and exotic drive system part of his story is perforce far-fetched, the concept of designing your drive or energy conversion systems to secondarily help generate ionic change in your interior atmosphere in order to drive artificial weather events and patterns make a lot of sense - assuming some of your surface area is devoted to agriculture versus all horti / agri - culture being hydroponic.

enter image description here

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Theoretically yes. But if you can build it, you can weather control it.

Weather is fundamentally the movement of air caused by temperature differentials in the atmosphere. In other words - some air is hotter than other air, and this causes the air to move around trying to find an equilibrium. All other weather effects are side effects of the big movements, mostly caused by things (namely water vapor) that the air has picked up while moving around.

Strong weather requires large temperature differentials, which in turn requires large amounts of air. There is no theoretical limit to the amount of air we can put in a space station - we just need enough materials to surround it and enough air to fill it. Water vapor is also easy to come by.

You also need temperature variance. That's easy enough to find - any station near a star is going to have one side that is naturally warmer than the other. Other temperature variations on Earth come from the materials of Earth's surface and the different ways that they retain heat (which is also incidentally affected by the presence or absence of water and water vapor). We can add different materials to our space station as well, and control where we put the water.

You don't even need that much volume to generate small amounts of weather. The Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building has 3,665,000 cubic meters and it can generate clouds on humid days. Not exactly a thunderstorm, but enough to cause significant damage to the planes being constructed there if their air conditioning ever breaks.

The problem is that extreme weather isn't very good for space stations. As anyone currently living in the Florida Panhandle or the Carolinas can tell you, extreme weather tends to have a negative effect on quality of life. So most space stations are going to go out of their way to avoid anything more powerful than a spring shower. And if you have the technology to build a can full of sky, you have the technology to control it.

An air conditioning system around the outside of your station can distribute the heat from the sun to keep the temperature nice and even. Baffles (like the one pictured above) can break up the movement of large quantities of air and prevent hurricanes from gathering momentum. When you get right down to it, a space station isn't all that different from a building built to a larger scale, and that just means you need a larger air conditioning unit.


Both images taken from Schlock Mercenary, a lovely space opera web comic. Book 14 (Broken Wind) is about our intrepid team of mercenaries discovering a station built by a race of aliens who had entirely too much time on their hands.

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