2012 noctilucent cloud season begins

Jun 19, 2012 By Dr. Tony Phillips and Holly Zell
Flying photographer Brian Whittaker photographed these NLCs over Canada on June 13, 2012. Credit: Brian Whittaker.

(Phys.org) -- Data from NASA's AIM spacecraft show that noctilucent clouds (NLCs) are like a great "geophysical light bulb". They turn on every year in late spring, reaching almost full intensity over a period of no more than 5 to 10 days--and the bulb is glowing. "They were visible to the north for about 3 hours as we flew between Ottawa and Newfoundland at 35,000 feet" said Brian Whittaker.

These electric-blue ice clouds hang 53 miles (85 km) above Earth's surface, at the edge of space itself, circling the north and south pole regions. Their origin is still largely a mystery; various theories associate them with meteoric dust, rocket exhaust, global warming--or some mixture of the three.

Observing tips: NLCs favor during the summer months, although they have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Virginia. Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6-16 degrees below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.

Explore further: Image: Orion crew module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, Kennedy Space Center

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A noctilucent masterpiece

Aug 09, 2011

Night-shining “noctilucent” clouds create a magical glow in the night skies over Reykjavíc, Iceland in this beautiful photo by Örvar Atli Þorgeirsson, taken on August 6. In the ...

Night Time Artificial Cloud Study Conducted

Sep 21, 2009

A rocket experiment that may shed light on the highest clouds in the Earth's atmosphere was conducted September 19 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Mysterious noctilucent clouds as seen from space

Feb 10, 2011

Mysterious "night shining" or noctilucent clouds are beautiful to behold, and are usually seen during the summertime, appearing at sunset. They are thin, wavy ice clouds that form at very high altitudes and ...

Clouds, clouds, burning bright

Apr 19, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- High up in the sky near the poles some 50 miles above the ground, silvery blue clouds sometimes appear, shining brightly in the night. First noticed in 1885, these clouds are known as noctilucent, ...

AIM to Clear Up Mystery of Elusive Clouds at Edge Of Space

Apr 11, 2007

NASA is preparing to launch the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft, the first mission dedicated to exploration of mysterious ice clouds that dot the edge of space in Earth's polar regions. These clouds have ...

Recommended for you

New launch date set for ISS delivery vessel

2 hours ago

A robot ship will be launched from Kourou, French Guiana, after a five-day delay on July 29 to deliver provisions to the International Space Station, space transport firm Arianespace said Tuesday.

The heart of an astronaut, five years on

4 hours ago

The heart of an astronaut is a much-studied thing. Scientists have analyzed its blood flow, rhythms, atrophy and, through journal studies, even matters of the heart. But for the first time, researchers are ...

Image: Kaleidoscopic view of Mars

9 hours ago

Astrophotographer Leo Aerts from Belgium took advantage of the recent opposition of Mars and captured the Red Planet both "coming and going" in this montage of images taken from October 2013 to June of 2014. ...

User comments : 0