What is happening
High altitude clouds have been forming in recent days at the highest rates seen since 2007.
why it matters
Rocket exhaust may be the cause, but climate change has also been known to make clouds more visible.
These are some of the rarest and highest-altitude clouds on Earth, and recently scientists have been recording more of them than at any point in the past 15 years.
They may look like an Impressionist painting of waves on the sea, but use the evening sky as the canvas and the actual clouds as the paint. Nocturnal clouds form in the sky during the summer months, when water molecules freeze around dust particles in the atmosphere, creating ethereal and artful landscapes above the ground that are wavy and undulating as if somewhere in an unstable ocean. indicate.
Most nocturnal (the name literally means “shining at night”) clouds form in the mesosphere, which is about 31 to 53 miles (50 to 85 km) above us, where you can assume that water vapor condenses and freezes. There is probably very little dust floating around. around. Much of the material that causes these clouds comes from meteorite smoke that burns up as it spreads into the atmosphere above.
But something else could facilitate the recent dramatic rise of these clouds.
NASA has a spacecraft called AIM (for “Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere”) that is helping to study all the fascinating things that happen in the upper deck of our skies.
Cora Randall, a scientist and professor who works at the University of Colorado, Boulder, worked with AIM data and was the first to verify that NLC is the way to go.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in clouds over the past few days,” she told Spaceweather.com last week.
Late June saw a spike in the frequency of night clouds that far exceeded previous spikes, going all the way back to 2007. One possible reason is the significant increase in rocket launches led by SpaceX and others.
“We’re speculating that the spike may be due to additional water vapor carried from the rocket launch to the higher latitudes,” Randall says.
According to astronomer Tony Phillips, writing at Spaceweather.com, it would take about 10 days for the water vapor that many rocket engines emit as exhaust to float to the mesosphere. That means NLC Spike Randall’s report in late June could be tied to a June 19 SpaceX launchRight after blasting.
Randall cautions that much more analysis needs to be done to confirm whether SpaceX actually plays a role in creating more rarefied clouds.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Research has also shown that nocturnal clouds are vulnerable to climate change, and their increased visibility may also be a byproduct of our warming planet.
Your best chance of spotting them yourself is when conditions are clear, dry and warm. In the Northern Hemisphere, July is peak NLC season. Head outside about 30 minutes after sunset and look west for those ethereal brush strokes of snow in the sky. The higher your latitude, the better your chances of seeing something, and the longer these clouds will last through the night.
If you find any nice pictures, please share them with me Twitter @EricCMack,