Satellite snaps first images of mysterious glowing clouds

June 30, 2007

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Noctilucent clouds appear bluish-white in this view over the north pole from the AIM satellite. The black spot at centre is an area where no data was available (Image: NASA/HU/VT/CU LASP)

A new satellite has captured its first views of enigmatic glowing clouds whose proliferation may be linked to climate change.

NASA launched the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite on 25 April on a mission to investigate “night-shining” or noctilucent clouds. These clouds float 80 kilometres above the ground and are made of tiny ice crystals. Because they are so high up, the Sun still reaches them and makes them glow after sunset and before sunrise, when the ground is in darkness.

The clouds have been observed since the 1800s, but in recent years they have brightened and grown more numerous. They were first observed above Earth’s polar regions, but have now spread to latitudes as low as 40. Some scientists suspect their proliferation is related to increasing greenhouse gases, which can actually cause the upper reaches of the atmosphere to cool.

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