The era of the luminous night cloud has arrived. Historically rare are night-bright clouds, beautiful formations of sparkling ice crystals suspended in the upper atmosphere that were only visible in the northern parts of the world in years past. They’ve been crawling steadily south for four decades, so this might be the year you spot this unique phenomenon from your own backyard.
Although luminous nocturnal clouds are often found in the upper atmosphere, they are usually not visible unless the weather conditions are just right. Traditionally, the peak season for viewing these swirling nocturnal clouds is late June through the end of July, and while they are only visible in the US in Alaska and the very northern parts of the lower 48, global warming is making “visible NLCs” more common in more places. Yay?
What are night clouds?
First observed in 1885, night clouds, or NLCs, are clouds of ice that form at the edge of space, between 47 and 53 miles above the Earth’s surface. They usually appear as blue or white swirls that only appear in the darkest hours of summer. NLCs are most visible between 50 and 60 degrees latitude, but lately they’ve been steadily getting brighter and moving south like Los Angeles, where People reported seeing them in 2019.
Why are luminous night clouds more visible now?
Luminous nocturnal clouds are invisible most of the time – the sky is so bright that the light reflected from it cannot be seen during the day. But in the middle of the night, the lower atmosphere is in the Earth’s shadow, while the light radiates to the upper atmosphere.
Small changes in the atmosphere can dramatically alter these clouds. Global warming has increased water vapor in the atmosphere, and this has resulted in larger nocturnal clouds that can be seen over a wider area of the planet. As the world warms more, we should see more luminous clouds. (Again, cool?)
How can you see calm clouds this summer
Bright clouds at night are visible only when the sky is clear of low clouds, and in the darkest hours of the night. To see them, get out around midnight and look north. The best view requires an unobstructed, broad-minded northern view. The view is stunning with the naked eye, but you may want to get binoculars to get a close-up view of the complexity of these clouds’ structures.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see a few glowing white or golden tufts relatively low on the horizon. If you get truly Fortunately, the fluffy clouds will grow and change color until the swirls, curls, and curls extend across the entire sky in blue, gold, and silver.
We’re at the height of the NLC season now – from mid-June through July – but nights that might feature formations can’t be expected more than a few hours in advance. In the past, you’d have to go out every night and hope, but sky-watching fans around the world are using technology to share NLC information and alert each other about the emergence of these elusive cloud formations.
Subscribe to these social media groups to get advance news about night clouds
Anyone in your east will see the NLCs first, and fans of the phenomenon will be more than happy to alert you that they’re coming. You can subscribe to Noctilucent Clouds Twitter Feed . Alerts, where users upload photos of events and send the word; enter Similar group on Facebook; Or follow #noctilucent on Twitter or Instagram. I suppose all this fodder gets totally crazy when the night clouds appear. We hope we all get a chance to check out this strange and wondrous phenomenon this summer.
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