Stunning Cloud Noctilucent Phenomenon Illuminates the Summer Night Sky

Formerly rare, but now increasingly common, noctilucent or “bright at night,” clouds form in the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere, tens of kilometers above climate clouds, in mid-latitude locations.

As the lower atmosphere warms up during the summer months, air circulates upward where it expands and cools in the Mesosphere, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) above sea level. If there is enough water vapor in these cold conditions, it will freeze around specks of meteoric dust, producing wispy clouds and swirling. Although it is too thin to be seen during the day, as the Sun dips below the horizon, its light continues to reflect off high-altitude clouds, illuminating phenomena against the dark sky.

In late June, astrophotographer Ollie Taylor captured the phenomenon of summer in a 12th-century church in Dorset, on the south coast of the United Kingdom, between 2 am and 2.50 am, local time, in the photo above. “It was an excellent night of filming, arriving at the scene at night already greeted by noctilucent clouds better than I had ever seen in southern England before,” Taylor said in a statement. “Electric blue complements the misty landscape and the mysterious structure.”

Night clouds as seen in Central Russia. PhotoChur / Shutterstock

The bright night clouds were first observed by humans in 1885, two years after the Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia released large amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere (a key ingredient necessary for cloud formation). During the following years, clouds were only seen from a particular location every few decades, but soon became a more regular feature of summer nights.

A 2018 study, published by the American Geophysical Union, concluded that the increased visibility of noctilucent clouds was due to humanity’s impact on the climate. The extraction and burning of fossil fuels has released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, including methane, which at high altitude produces water vapor. Since 1871, the report found that there was a 40 percent increase in water vapor 80 kilometers (50 miles) above mid-north latitude, which means there is now a good chance of seeing the clouds multiple times. each summer.

From ground to space, humans have captured the wonder that shines at night in some truly stunning images. Even astronauts have seen the feathery patches during their stay on the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano took this photo from the International Space Station. ESA / NASA

Because the conditions for noctilucent cloud formation are so specific that it is difficult to predict more than a few hours in advance, but enthusiastic observers try to share any warnings on the web. If you can’t see them in person, fortunately the images alone are enough to calm your soul.