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NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite has captured five complete polar seasons of noctilucent (NLC) or "night-shining" clouds with an unprecedented horizontal resolution of 3 miles by 3 miles. Results show that the cloud season turns on and off like a "geophysical light bulb" and they reveal evidence that high altitude mesospheric "weather" may follow similar patterns as our ever-changing weather near the Earth's surface.
The AIM measurements have provided the first comprehensive global-scale view of the complex life cycle of these clouds, also called Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs), over three entire Northern Hemisphere and two Southern Hemisphere seasons revealing more about their formation, frequency and brightness and why they appear to be occurring at lower latitudes than ever before.
The clouds usually form at high latitudes during the summer of each hemisphere. They are made of ice crystals formed when water vapor condenses onto dust particles in the brutal cold of this region, at temperatures around minus 210 to minus 235 degrees Fahrenheit. They are called "night shining" clouds by observers on the ground because their high altitude allows them to continue reflecting sunlight after the sun has set below the horizon. They form a spectacular silvery blue display visible well into the night time.