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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

Have you ever seen a noctilucent or "night-shining" cloud? Don't worry if you haven't - they are a fairly recent "discovery" in the world of science. Here's what we know!

The first reporting of these eerie clouds was made in the summer of 1885. The observations were made in northern Europe and Russia. The first photos of these clouds were taken in the late 1880’s.

In the early 1900’s, many scientists were trying to figure out what made these clouds form in the Earth's atmosphere. To figure this out, scientists started looking for these clouds more regularly - first in Europe in the late 1950's and in North America in the 1960's. The first rocket was launched into a noctilucent cloud in 1962.

In the more recent past, more observations made from the ground and satellites orbiting the Earth found that noctilucent clouds are mainly made of water ice. How they form exactly will be researched by the AIM satellite mission to be launched in 2006.

Crews aboard the International Space Station 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.

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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