Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

Noctilucent Clouds - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
These mystifying clouds are called Polar Mesospheric Clouds, or PMCs, when they are viewed from space and referred to as "night-shining" clouds or Noctilucent Clouds, when viewed by observers on Earth. The clouds form in an upper layer of the Earth’s atmosphere called the mesosphere during the summer and can be seen from the high latitudes on Earth.
Image Courtesy of NASA/Veres Viktor

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 to as noctilucent clouds when viewed by observers on Earth. Unlike lower clouds that are associated with weather, these clouds form at the very edge of space in the atmospheric layer called the mesosphere. Like some of the clouds we see more regularly, scientists think these clouds are made of frozen water or ice crystals.

As you can see from the image, NLC’s are seen best just after sunset. They glow an electric, blue-white. They are normally seen from locations near the poles of the Earth, but in recent years, they have been seen at much lower-latitude locations (like Colorado or Virginia in the U.S.). It’s this change in the locations of NLC’s that makes scientist think they may be a sign of global climate change on Earth, specifically global warming which is influenced by human activity. Scientists will look into this possibility with a new atmospheric mission, AIM (The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere).

These eerie looking clouds have only been studied in the recent past. Now, people are becoming more aware of NLC's. You too can be an observer of these clouds and can even share that information with others on the Internet!

Last modified February 10, 2009 by Becca Hatheway.

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

Global Warming: Scientists Say Earth Is Heating Up

Earth’s climate is warming. During the 20th Century Earth’s average temperature rose 0.6° Celsius (1.1°F). Scientists are finding that the change in temperature has been causing other aspects of our planet...more

Living Things Affect Climate

There are many different ways that the plants, animals and other life on our planet, affect climate. Some produce greenhouses gases that trap heat and aid global warming through the greenhouse effect,...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

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...more

The Polar Atmosphere

Phenomena in the Polar Atmosphere There are some unique phenomena that happen in the atmosphere that is above the Earth's polar regions. Read on to discover more about some of the unique parts of the polar...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

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF