From: Roger Greenway, ENN
Published July 24, 2009 04:24 PM

Mysteries of Night Clouds Being Solved by NASA

Noctilucent clouds have fascinated meteorologists for years. Figuring out why they form and what factors affect how and where they can be seen has been difficult since they seem to show up unpredictably, and often in remote areas. Now, a NASA satellite has captured some mysterious shiny polar clouds 50 miles above Earth’s surface.

The first observations of these "night-shining" clouds by a satellite named "AIM" which means Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, occurred above 70 degrees north latitude on May 25. People on the ground began seeing the clouds on June 6 over Northern Europe. AIM is the first satellite mission dedicated to the study of these unusual clouds.


These mystifying clouds are called Polar Mesospheric Clouds, or PMCs, when they are viewed from space and referred to as "night-shining" clouds or Noctilucent Clouds, when viewed by observers on Earth. The clouds form in an upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere called the mesosphere during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season which began in mid-May and extends through the end of August and are being seen by AIM’s instruments more frequently as the season progresses. They are also seen in the high latitudes during the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere.

On June 11, 2007 the cameras on the AIM satellite returned some of the first data documenting noctilucent clouds over the Arctic regions of Europe and North America. This new data reveals the global extent and structure of these mysterious clouds, to a degree that was previously unattainable. The photograph shows white and light blue representing noctilucent cloud structures. Black indicates areas where no data is available.

Image Credit: Cloud Imaging and Particle Size Experiment data processing team at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

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