AviationBlog

Noctilucent clouds – Night Clouds

By June 25, 2018 No Comments

Magic in earth’s upper atmosphere:

 

Night Clouds

Every summer, something strange and wonderful happens high above the north pole. Ice crystals begin to cling to the smoky remains of meteors, forming electric-blue clouds with tendrils that ripple hypnotically against the sunset sky. Noctilucent clouds-a.k.a. "NLCs"- (or Night Clouds) are a delight for high-latitude sky watchers and the pilots who fly at night in the northern part of the world.

Noctilucent Clouds or better know as Night Clouds are a phenomena happening in late spring, early summer.

Every summer, something strange and wonderful happens high above the north pole. Ice crystals begin to cling to the smoky remains of meteors, forming electric-blue clouds with tendrils that ripple hypnotically against the sunset sky. Noctilucent clouds-a.k.a. “NLCs”- (or Night Clouds) are a delight for high-latitude sky watchers and the pilots who fly at night in the northern part of the world.

The clouds can be seen quite good from the cockpit. They appear only a few times a year, so you have to be lucky to see them.

Noctilucent clouds are Earth’s highest clouds. Seeded by meteoroids, they float at the edge of space more than 80 km above Earth’s surface. The clouds are very cold and filled with tiny ice crystals. When sunbeams hit those crystals, they glow electric-blue.

Noctilucent clouds are a mystery dating back to the late 19th century.  Northern sky watchers first noticed them in 1885 about two years after the eruption of Krakatoa. Ash from the Indonesian volcano caused such splendid sunsets that evening sky watching became a worldwide pastime. Scientists of the day guessed they were some manifestation of volcanic dust.

Eventually Krakatoa’s ash settled and the sunsets faded, but strangely the noctilucent clouds didn’t go away.  They’re still present today, stronger than ever.  Researchers aren’t sure what role Krakatoa’s ash played in those early sightings.

One thing is clear, the dust behind the clouds we see now is space dust.

“Data from AIM show that 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.” (NASA)

Noctilucent clouds can be seen from space, too. Astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) took this photo on January 5, 2013, when ISS was over the Pacific Ocean south of French Polynesia. Below the brightly-lit noctilucent clouds, across the center of the image, the pale orange band is the stratosphere. Image via NASA.

From the cockpit we can see the clouds during these days. I only wished we flew a bit more to the north pole as they would be better visible up there.

 

They are visible on a clear day in Northern Europe, so be sure to head out these days to capture them!

Have you seen them before or even captured them?
Leave them in the comments and I’ll share them together in a post!

You can see the night clouds on the horizon, through the left center window.
This was taken around 2AM on 25th June, as you can see it never gets dark at this time of year.
– Over Germany at 36.000 ft. –

Martijn.Kort

Martijn.Kort

Fine art photographer focusing on architecture and cityscapes as well as capturing unique moments from the cockpit. Writing about photography techniques and sharing reviews. Ambassador for both ZEISS Netherlands and Nisi Filters.If you like my work, consider following me on Instagram!

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