This is an artist's rendition of the AIM spacecraft taking measurements of the mesosphere while flying through space.
Click on image for full size
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.

Last modified June 18, 2004 by Jennifer Bergman.

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

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

Space Missions to study Earth's Atmosphere & Climate

Satellites that orbit Earth help us study Earth's atmosphere, weather, and climate. Here are a few of the many spacecraft that study our atmosphere. Aura was launched in July 2004. It is studying pollution,...more

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was one of the most important exploration tools of the past two decades, and will continue to serve as a great resource well into the new millennium. The HST found numerous...more

Apollo 11

Driven by a recent surge in space research, the Apollo program hoped to add to the accomplishments of the Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor missions of the late 1960's. Apollo 11 was the name of the first mission...more

Apollo 12

Apollo 12 was launched on Nov. 14, 1969, surviving a lightning strike which temporarily shut down many systems, and arrived at the Moon three days later. Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean descended...more

Apollo 15

Apollo 15 marked the start of a new series of missions from the Apollo space program, each capable of exploring more lunar terrain than ever before. Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 reached the Moon...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