A cloud is a visible mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 of liquid
Liquid is one of the three classical states of matter . Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Some liquids resist compression, while others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly...

Drop (liquid)
A drop or droplet is a small column of liquid, bounded completely or almost completely by free surfaces. A drop may form when liquid accumulates at the lower end of a tube or other surface boundary, producing a hanging drop called a pendant drop...

 or frozen crystal
A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography...

s made of water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 and/or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere
An atmosphere is a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body. An atmosphere may be retained for a longer duration, if the gravity is high and the atmosphere's temperature is low...

 above the surface of a planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

ary body. They are also known as aerosols. Clouds in Earth's atmosphere are studied in the cloud physics
Cloud physics
Cloud physics is the study of the physical processes that lead to the formation, growth and precipitation of clouds. Cloud formations are composed of microscopic droplets of liquid water , tiny crystals of ice , or both...

 branch of meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air's becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

 to the air. In general, precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 will fall to the surface; an exception is virga
In meteorology, virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground. At high altitudes the precipitation falls mainly as ice crystals before melting and finally evaporating; this is usually due to compressional heating, because...

, which evaporates before reaching the surface.

Clouds can show convective development like cumulus
Cumulus is a type of cloud with the appearance of a lump of cotton wool.Cumulus may also refer to:*Cumulus Media, a radio broadcasting company*Cumulus , digital asset management software developed by Canto Software*Reinhard Cumulus, glider...

, appear in layered sheets such as stratus
Stratus cloud
A stratus cloud is a cloud belonging to a class characterized by horizontal layering with a uniform base, as opposed to convective clouds that are as tall or taller than wide . More specifically, the term stratus is used to describe flat, hazy, featureless clouds of low altitude varying in color...

, or take the form of thin fibrous wisps, as in the case of cirrus
Cirrus cloud
Cirrus clouds are atmospheric clouds generally characterized by thin, wispy strands, giving them their name from the Latin word cirrus meaning a ringlet or curling lock of hair...