A giant balloon sent to study polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs) has delivered a spectacular footage of what is taking place in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
These clouds, called noctilucent (NLCs) or polar mesospheric clouds (PMC) are mysterious, electric glowing clouds that are beautiful to watch. They were first seen 1885 about two years after the powerful eruption of Krakatoa hurled plumes of volcanic ash as much as 80 km high in Earth’s atmosphere.
“They were first seen in 1885″ about two years after the powerful eruption of Krakatoa hurled plumes of volcanic ash as much as 80 km high in Earth’s atmosphere,” says Gary Thomas, a professor at the University of Colorado who studies NLCs.
These eye-catching clouds were previously only seen over almost exclusively in Earth’s polar regions, but they are now also visible in the skies over the United States and Europe and elsewhere. This development has led some scientists to suggest noctilucent clouds could be dangerous.
On July 8, 2018, NASA’s PMC Turbo mission launched a giant balloon to study PMCs at a height of 50 miles above the surface. For five days, the balloon floated through the stratosphere from its launch at Estrange, Sweden, across the Arctic to Western Nunavut, Canada. During its flight, cameras aboard the balloon captured 6 million high-resolution images filling up 120 terabytes of data storage—most of which included a variety of PMC displays, revealing the processes leading to turbulence. Scientists are now beginning to go through the images and the first look has been promising.
“From what we’ve seen so far, we expect to have a really spectacular dataset from this mission,” said Dave Fritts, principal investigator of the PMC Turbo mission at Global Atmospheric Technologies and Sciences in Boulder, Colorado. “Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events and we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics.”
The resulting photos, which scientists have just begun to analyze, will help us better understand turbulence in the atmosphere, as well as in oceans, lakes and other planetary atmospheres, and may even improve weather forecasting.
The results will also help scientists to improve weather forecast models.