Picture of the Moment...

Mysterious blue clouds return in force, June & July 2009

It's summer, the Sun is at its lowest level of activity for many years, the globe is warming up, rocket and Space Shuttle launches are injecting water into the upper atmosphere - what does this mean? Well, excellent conditions for Noctilucent Clouds, delicate blue wisps of smoke-sized ice crystals that form around 80km (50 miles) above the Earth, on the very edge of space.

Why they have increased in intensity and frequency over recent years is something of a mystery, but 2009 has proved good for them so far, with exceptional displays even in the south of England...

Noctilucent Clouds on evening of 12 July 2009

A delicate wave structure is revealed in a display that was seen extensively from the UK and Europe.


Click the picture or here to see more pictures that I have taken, including an impressive appearance in the early hours of 19th June 2009.

To see them for yourself look to the north around 1.5 hours after sunset or before dawn during June and July. They are not always present but you may be in for a treat. These clouds are not to be confused with normal cirrus clouds - the usual highest ones that are seen. They will be dark at this time of the night (unless glowing orange from the light pollution of a nearby city), while the NLCs are still in sunlight at such extreme altitude.

See Spaceweather for pictures from around the world.

It had been 3 years since I had previously seen Noctilucent Clouds from the UK but a trip to Iceland in August 2008 revealed them - we had a clearer view of them than the eclipse our visit was supposed to see!


Picture added on 15 July 2009

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