The era of the noctilescent cloud has arrived. Brilliant clouds at night are historically rare, beautiful formations of glistening ice crystals suspended in the upper atmosphere that were only visible in northern parts of the world in recent years. They’ve been crawling south steadily for four decades, so this could be the year you see this unique phenomenon from your backyard.
While noctilucent clouds are often present in the upper atmosphere, they are usually not visible unless atmospheric conditions are exactly right. Traditionally, the peak season to see these swirling night clouds is from late June to late July, and while they were only visible in the United States in Alaska and the northernmost parts of the lower 48 , global warming makes “NLCs visible”. ” more common in more places. Yay?
What are noctilucent clouds?
First observed in 1885, noctilescent clouds, or NLCs, are ice clouds that form at the edge of space, between 47 and 53 miles above the ground. They usually appear as blue or white swirls visible only in the darkest hours of summer. NLCs are most visible between 50 and 60 degrees latitude, but recently they have become brighter and have moved as far south as Los Angeles, where people said they had seen them in 2019.
Why are noctilucent clouds more visible now?
Night clouds are invisible most of the time – the sky is too bright to see light reflecting off them during the day. But in the middle of the night, the lower part of the atmosphere is in Earth’s shadow, while the upper part of the atmosphere is illuminated by light.
Small changes in the atmosphere can alter these clouds significantly. Global warming has driven more water vapor into the atmosphere, leading to larger noctilucent clouds visible over a wider area of the planet. As the world warms further, we should see even more noctilucent clouds. (Again, yeah?)
How to See Night Clouds This Summer
Clouds that glow at night are only visible when the sky is clear of lower clouds and during the darkest hours of the night. To see them, go outside around midnight and look north. The best view requires an unobstructed north view of the entire horizon. The view is spectacular with the naked eye, but you might want a pair of binoculars to get a close view of the intricate structures of these clouds.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a few streaks of bright white or gold relatively low on the horizon. If you get really fortunately, the wispy clouds will grow and change color until electric blue, gold and silver swirls, curls and ripples stretch across the sky.
We’re in the height of NLC season right now – meaning mid-June through July – but the nights that could feature the formations can’t be predicted more than a few hours in advance. In the past, you had to go out every night and hope, but sky fans around the world are using technology to share NLC information and alert each other to those elusive cloud formations.
Subscribe to these social media groups for new noctilucent cloud advances
Anyone east of you will see NLC first, and fans of the phenomenon are only too happy to warn you that it’s coming. You can subscribe to Twitter Feed Alerts Noctilucent Clouds, where users upload event images and send the word; join a similar group on Facebook; or follow #noctilucent on Twitter Where instagram. I guess all these streams go completely crazy when the night clouds appear. Here’s hoping we’ll all get a chance to experience this weird and wonderful phenomenon this summer.