This is an artist's rendition of the AIM spacecraft taking measurements of the mesosphere while flying through space.
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Courtesy of NASA (Hampton University)
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 2006 and will study these clouds in detail for over two years.
The mission will look at these clouds that form about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. You see, noctilucent clouds are very special clouds. They are only seen high in the sky just after the Sun dips below the horizon. In the past, they were mainly seen in the summer months, near the poles of the Earth. They sometimes glow an electric, blue-white color which make them seem very mysterious. These beautiful clouds that hover at the very edge of space seem to be getting brighter and closer to the equator in recent years. PMC’s are definitely connected to the meteorology of the mesosphere. What the AIM mission will help scientists determine is why the formation of PMC’s is changing and if PMC's are connected to global climate change.
The AIM satellite has three instruments aboard: CIPS, SOFIE and CDE. CIPS is an instrument that will take pictures of the clouds to determine when and where they form, and to show what they look like. SOFIE will measure the temperature and composition of the mesosphere, which is where the clouds form. Finally, CDE will measure how much dust enters the mesosphere from meteors. It is possible that this dust is what water vapor is freezing onto to form PMC’s and so is important to understand.
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