Look high and higher for the beautiful noctilucent clouds

Aug 3, 2022, 1:18 PM | Updated: 1:18 pm
(NASA Photo)...
(NASA Photo)
(NASA Photo)

With the intensity of the summer monsoon season here in Arizona, we look to the subject of meteorology and in particular, clouds.

We are used to seeing many types of clouds on any given day and some of these are very recognizable to us – the cotton-looking clouds we call cumulonimbus and the higher altitude clouds known as cirrus clouds.

To make all this better understood, we need to look and identify all the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The lowest of all the parts of the atmosphere we call the troposphere. This layer of the atmosphere is most important to us as it contains the breathable oxygen and other life-supporting systems.

It reaches a height of some 10 miles above the planet.

Look at it this way: the breathable part of the Earth’s atmosphere is as thin as the skin on an apple if that was the size of the Earth.

From here, we visit the next layer, the stratosphere. This is a layer of the atmosphere up to about 31 miles above the ground layer. This is the region where most jet aircraft fly and the ozone layer of the planet also lies.

From here, we visit the mesosphere, a region of the atmosphere up to 53 miles above the planet. This is the layer in which we see most meteors “burn” up and the location of the strange noctilucent clouds, which we will visit soon.

The next layer is known as the thermosphere, up to 600 or more miles above us. It is the hottest portion of the atmosphere. It helps to filter out gamma and X-rays from hitting the surface.

Finally, the region known as the exosphere, where most satellites orbit Earth.

The highest clouds on Earth are those known as noctilucent clouds. A combination of meteor dust and water vapor, they glow at night in the summer skies of both hemispheres.

Here is what they look like.

These clouds appear to glow with an amazing sheen and are quite beautiful when observed.

First observed after the great 1883 Krakatoa explosion in 1885. These clouds are seen mostly in the summer months.

Learn more about this unique type of clouds.

There may be an interesting connection with the increase in noctilucent clouds and the high number of rocket launches around the globe.

The water and chemicals in the exhaust plumes of rockets may be fueling the increase in the clouds.

Here are more details.

The clouds have been seen in many lower latitude observing sites and are quite beautiful in the dusk or predawn sky. They “light up” at these times as sunlight is streaming upwards well before and after sunset and sunrise.

With the summer and fall meteor showers to come, the sighting of the magical clouds is on the increase.

This also makes for a great photo opportunity for you on your vacations to locations which have open spaces and better views of the sky!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.

Podcasts are available here.

Dr. Sky Blog

(NASA Photo)...
Steve Kates

Grab binoculars or telescope – Jupiter and Mars are coming into full view

Jupiter and Mars are coming closer to Earth, which is going to give skywatchers a really good look at them through binoculars or a telescope.
2 days ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Steve Kates

Here’s your final Perseid meteor shower update for 2022

There are lots of summer monsoon showers to be had, but there is another type of shower occurring right now - the Perseid meteor showers!
9 days ago
An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. (NASA/JPL...
Steve Kates

Meteor showers and more will take their places in August night skies

August will be here once again, a time of monsoon weather, thunderstorms and showers as well as meteor showers!
23 days ago
(Pixabay Photo)...
Steve Kates

Here’s what you should know about the weather phenomenon known as hail

To many people, the weather component known as hail is strange. Hail can appear in weather systems at any time and in many parts of the world.
30 days ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Steve Kates

Reaching for the moon is super idea in July

July skies bring us an amazing sight - the super thunder moon!
1 month ago
(Twitter Photo/NASA)...
Steve Kates

James Webb Telescope ready to unlock mysteries of the cosmos

Get set for some interesting images from the James Webb Telescope. NASA is expected to release the images on or about July 12.
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Look high and higher for the beautiful noctilucent clouds