NASA spots electric-blue clouds over Antarctica 

NASA is reporting its spacecraft has detected high-altitude clouds over Antarctica.

According to a press release by the agency, "Data from NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere – and an early one at that."

Earth’s highest clouds: noctilucent clouds
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Earth’s highest clouds: noctilucent clouds
Noctilucent clouds over Tallinn. Estonia, Europe.

(Arsty via Getty Images)

Starry sky above an orange sunset. The plane of the galaxy is the lighter area rising vertically just left of centre. The brighter patch right of centre is the rare noctilucent cloud. 

(lucentius via Getty Images)

A great noctilucent cloud display that lasted all through last night from dusk til dawn, together with a meteor caught shooting through the skies.

(Landscapes by Kris Williams via Getty Images)

High altitude and very rare Noctilucent clouds as seen in the atmosphere on a late summers evening within the United Kingdom. Made of ice crystals, also in view appears to be a rare sun dog sunlight reflection towards the lower half of the image.

(Nickbeer via Getty Images)

Pilings from old pier sticking up through smooth water and noctilucent clouds over Seattle skyline.

(David Hogan via Getty Images)

Noctilucent Clouds visible on Glasgow's northern horizon just after midnight on June 23, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland. Noctilucent Clouds are the highest clouds in the earths atmosphere inhabiting a region called the Mesosphere, at an altitude of approximately, 47 to 53 miles. They are composed of water ice crystals up to 100 nanometers in diameter and particles of dust. They are visible only when illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon during the summer months of May - July, Noctilucent clouds are a recent meteorological discovery and there are no records of the phenomenon before 1885.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Noctilucent clouds are formed in the upper atmosphere. These clouds are found at an altitude of about 80 km. They can be seen immediately after sunset or before sunrise. Noctilucent clouds were detected only in the XIX century.

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Photographs of noctilucent clouds appearing in the night sky over Britain on July, 2009. Noctilucent clouds are rare in that they form high in the atmosphere near the edge of space where normally there is not enough moisture or molecular debris needed to form the water vapours that make up clouds. Such clouds generally appear only during the summer months and so high are the clouds that the sun, having already set below the horizon, can still illuminate them. These photographs were taken more than an hour after sunset when the sky would normally be dark.

(Photo by Jamie Cooper/SSPL/Getty Images)


As to what these clouds are, NASA explains, "Noctilucent clouds are Earth's highest clouds, sandwiched between Earth and space 50 miles above the ground in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Seeded by fine debris from disintegrating meteors, these clouds of ice crystals glow a bright, shocking blue when they reflect sunlight."

Noctilucent clouds or NLCs have been appearing at more southerly latitudes, with sightings as far down as Northern California.

Computer models suggest that as greenhouses gasses warm the lower levels in the atmosphere, the upper layers cool. That scenario is conducive to these high clouds forming.

NASA further notes, "This year, AIM saw the start of noctilucent cloud season on Nov. 17, 2016 – tying with the earliest start yet in the AIM record of the Southern Hemisphere."

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