Rare Electric Blue Clouds Snapped During NASA PMC Turbo Mission


Only a couple of months after the NASA balloon, part of the PMC Turbo mission, was launched in the stratosphere to explore the rare polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs), the researchers started analyzing the images captured by the probe. With this occasion, the US space agency’s scientists released a snap of those rare electric blue clouds.

The polar mesospheric clouds, dubbed as electric clouds or noctilucent clouds, are usually forming 80 kilometers above the Earth’s surface by the fusion between their ice crystals and the small meteor residues from the planet’s upper atmosphere. These clouds’ blue and white brightness is visible from the Earth’s poles after summer sunsets.

NASA launched a balloon, part of the PMC Turbo mission, in early July to study these polar mesospheric clouds and learn more about them.  The balloon flew from Esrange, Sweden, across the Arctic, to Western Nunavut, Canada, and snapped more than 6 million high-resolution images that the scientists are now analyzing.

NASA balloon, part of the PMC Turbo mission, snapped rare electric blue clouds

“From what we’ve seen so far, we expect to have a really spectacular dataset from this mission. Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events, and we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics,” explained Dave Fritts, PMC Turbo principal investigator.

According to NASA, these rare electric blue clouds are sensitive to environmental factors including temperature and water vapor levels, so a normal airflow over the mountains or bolts of lightning can disturb the Earth’s atmosphere and trigger gravity waves which, at their turn impact on the weather and climate. Also, these gravity waves make the polar mesospheric clouds visible as, otherwise, they’re invisible to the naked eye.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to visualize the flow of energy from larger gravity waves to smaller flow instabilities and turbulence in the upper atmosphere. At these altitudes, you can literally see the gravity waves breaking, like ocean waves on the beach, and cascading to turbulence,” said Dave Fritts.


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