Night Shine

Noctilucent clouds at sunset

Noctilucent – literally night-shining – clouds are a phenomenon unique to high latitudes during the summer months. Too dim and sparse to see in daylight, these clouds shine at night because their altitude of around 80 km allows them to catch sunlight long after dusk has fallen at the surface. They form when temperatures in the summer mesosphere drop to nearly -150 degrees Celsius, driven by perturbations that can originate in lower layers of the atmosphere on the opposite side of the Earth. Complex interactions and feedback between atmospheric waves, buoyancy, and Coriolis effect circulate those disturbances in such a way that the summer mesosphere can reach temperatures colder than any other place on Earth. Those frigid temperatures allow clouds to form even in this dry region near the edge of space. (Image credit: S. Stephens; see also: B. Karlsson and T. Shepard)

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