This image of electric blue noctilucent clouds was taken by astronaut Don Pettit while he was aboard the ISS.
Courtesy of Don Pettit and NASA TV
History of Observation of Noctilucent Clouds
Observations of noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds
were first reported in the summer of 1885. The observations were made in northern Europe and Russia. In the late 1880’s, it was proposed that the clouds had a connection with the volcano dust thrown into the Earth’s atmosphere by the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883. This theory was later disproven. The first photos of these eerie clouds were taken in the late 1880’s.
In the early 1900’s, many scientists were trying to figure out what made up these clouds. Some proposed theories included the fact that they were made of cosmic dust, water ice, or ice-covered cosmic dust. Knowledge about these clouds improved over the century with scientist Malzev proving that noctilucent clouds did not form just because volcano dust had been thrown into the Earth's atmosphere. More regular observations in Europe began around 1957 and the first rocket was launched into a noctilucent cloud in 1962. Also in 1962, regular North American observations of noctilucent clouds began. Around the same time the first noctilucent clouds were observed from the Southern Hemisphere.
In the more recent past, more ground-based observations and space satellites found out that noctilucent clouds are mainly made of water ice. How they form exactly and any ties they have to global climate change will be researched by the AIM satellite mission to be launched in 2006.
Crews aboard the International Space Station still routinely see noctilucent clouds while orbiting the Earth. You can be an observer of noctilucent clouds too and share that information with others on the Internet.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!Cool It!
is the new card game from the Union of Concerned Scientists that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change—and how policy and technology decisions made today will matter. Cool It! is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
Noctilucent clouds (NLC’s) or polar mesospheric clouds (PMC’s) are found very high in the Earth's atmosphere. They are called Polar Mesospheric Clouds when they are viewed from space, and are referred...more
Do you know what the highest clouds in the atmosphere are called? Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMC’s), or noctilucent clouds (NLC’s)! The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission will be launched in...more
The International Space Station (ISS) is a large space station that orbits Earth. There are astronauts and cosmonauts living onboard the ISS right now. The ISS isn't completely finished, though. New sections...more
Rainbows appear in the sky when there is bright sunlight and rain. Sunlight is known as visible or white light and is actually a mixture of colors. Rainbows result from the refraction and reflection of...more
The Earth travels around the sun one full time per year. During this year, the seasons change depending on the amount of sunlight reaching the surface and the Earth's tilt as it revolves around the sun....more
Scientists sometimes travel in specially outfitted airplanes in order to gather data about atmospheric conditions. These research aircraft have special inlet ports that bring air from the outside into...more
An anemometer is a weather instrument used to measure the wind (it can also be called a wind gauge). Anemometers can measure wind speed, wind direction, and other information like the largest gust of wind...more