Shop Windows to the Universe

The Universe at Your Fingertips 2.0 DVD from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific is in our online store, filled with Earth and space science resources.
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.

Last modified August 17, 2004 by Jennifer Bergman.

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.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Noctilucent Clouds

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

AIM Mission Overview

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

International Space Station

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

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 Four Seasons

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

Research Aircraft

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

Anemometer

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

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA