Noctilucent Clouds and you

by Aug 19, 2013

A good friend recently posted this YouTube video on my FB page showing a rare video with *both* Noctilucent Clouds and the Aurora Borealis.

Noctilucent Clouds (NLCs, also called Polar Mesospheric Clouds) are clouds made of extremely small ice crystals and are at the highest known altitude of any cloud structure around the Earth. They’re only visible during that post-sunset/pre-sunrise period where the observation site is dark, but the high altitudes are still illuminated by the over-the-local-horizon Sun.

Space Shuttle entry profile - high inclination northerly approach

Space Shuttle entry profile – high inclination northerly approach

The Aurora Borealis (or “Northern Lights”) light shows are the result of collisions of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere – I’ve not seen them in person, myself, but hope to one day!

In the 1990s, we had some discussions and Flight Rule updates re: noctilucent clouds and Space Shuttle entry profile selections.

Since the phenomenon was still relatively unknown, or at least what the (quite literal) impacts of thin, high-altitude ice would have on a hypersonic Space Shuttle, we were directed to prioritize Shuttle entry profiles/directions so that we avoided (if possible) northerly approaches on high-inclination missions that would have taken us through areas with potential NLCs.

July 2020 update: Here’s a great photo of Broadway Tower in England with Comet NEOWISE and some spectacular examples of noctilucent clouds!

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