NASA Captures Images Of Vivid Blue Clouds Spawned By Meteorites Over The Arctic

Friday, 21 September 2018 - 12:52PM
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Friday, 21 September 2018 - 12:52PM
NASA Captures Images Of Vivid Blue Clouds Spawned By Meteorites Over The Arctic
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YouTube: NASA/Kevin Cho
If you thought the Arctic was home only to the mysterious skyglow known as STEVE, we have exciting news for you: scientists have taken some incredibly high-res images of another high-latitude phenomenon, known as "noctilucent clouds" (or polar mesospheric clouds). These clouds are a vivid electric blue and only appear right after sunset in polar regions. They're also believed to begin as collections of ice crystals that gather around tiny pieces of meteorites in the atmosphere until they grow into wispy clouds. Check out the video below to see what they look like!



These images were caught by NASA's PMC Turbo mission, which consisted of a balloon with a high-res camera, LIDAR equipment, an onboard computer, and hard drives for data storage. Over the course of its five-day mission, it floated five miles above the Earth's surface and took 6 million photos of noctilucent clouds, which equates to 120 terabytes of data. In addition to regular images, the balloon used its LIDAR (a portmanteau of "light" and "radar") to find the altitude of the clouds, allowing it to collect data in three dimensions.

According to Dave Fritts, principal investigator of the mission: "From what we've seen so far, we expect to have a really spectacular dataset from this mission. Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events and we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics."

One of the most striking discoveries made during the mission was the identification of "gravity waves," patterns of air that are pushed into higher altitudes. The PMC Turbo mission managed to spot these waves rising and creating a ripple effect in the clouds, which will hopefully give scientists insight into how the lower and middle parts of Earth's atmosphere interact with one another and create predictable weather patterns. According to Fritts: "This is the first time we've been able to visualize the flow of energy from larger gravity waves to smaller flow instabilities and turbulence in the upper atmosphere. At these altitudes you can literally see the gravity waves breaking - like ocean waves on the beach - and cascading to turbulence."
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