Mysterious Noctilucent Clouds As Seen from Space

Polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs) observed by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on the Aura satellite. Maps by Robert Simmon. Credit: NAS

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 reflect sunlight long after the Sun has dropped below the horizon. Scientists don’t know exactly why they form, but continue to observe them – both from Earth and from space. These images were taken by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite.

Also called polar mesospheric clouds, they are puzzling scientists with their recent dramatic changes. They used to be considered rare, but now the clouds are growing brighter, are seen more frequently, are visible at lower and lower latitudes than ever before, and — as these satellite image reveal — they are now even appearing during the day.

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