While they’re technically not an astronomical phenomenon, don’t go telling that to the webmasters of the various astronomical websites who post photos of them on a regular basis. Now, the mysterious ‘they’ are noctilucent clouds, also known as night-shining clouds because they shine brightly long after the Sun has set, providing a beautiful, yet rare distraction from the regular astronomical sights.
While mysterious, there are some facts that we do know about noctilucent clouds. First, they form when water vapor high in the atmosphere crystallizes into ice when temperatures dip below 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason these clouds appear so bright is the sunlight hitting the highly reflective ice crystals that constitute the clouds.
So, what could the clouds ‘telling’ us?
Since the clouds have become more common in recent decades, there may be a dropping of temperature in the mesosphere (where the clouds form), an increase in the amount of water vapor (caused by among other things, greenhouse gasses) in the high atmosphere, or a combination of both. The answer to the question of why the clouds are forming is now the focus of the scientific research trying to understand the mysterious phenomenon of noctilucent clouds.
Want to see the clouds? Well, to begin with, the good news is that late summer tends to be the time when the clouds are typically seen the most often. Next, traveling North may be a good idea as sightings of them at Cleveland latitudes are very rare, but it is possible, especially considering that sightings of the glowing clouds are being reported ever farther South. However, a trip to Canada or Alaska may be your best bet to see these rarest of clouds.
For more info:
All about observing noctilucent clouds
As always, the weather is something to be considered, so, be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecastand, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clockand see if it will be clear near you. Naturally, sky-obscuring clouds are never the noctilucent variety!
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National Space News Examiner
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For more Cleveland astro news:
Featured sight for week of 8/14: a morning walk with the Dog Star
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NASA to Cleveland residents: look for meteorites
Local meteorite fall story goes national
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