June 2019 has been a beautiful month for seeing noctilucent – or night-shining – clouds. The Facebook group Noctilucent Clouds Around the World has been buzzing with sightings, and loaded with photos, and we’ve also heard from people who sighted the clouds this month from farther south than usual, including some sightings from as far south as Oklahoma.
What are these clouds? They’re seeded by dust from meteors. They’re the highest clouds in Earth’s sky, floating more than 50 miles (80 km) above Earth’s surface. You know how – at the end of day – a high mountaintop may be the last thing illuminated by sunlight? So it is with these clouds. Sunlight can be striking them when it has long set for us on Earth’s surface, and thus they are noctilucent (noct + lucent = visible or glowing at night). Plus the clouds are cold and contain ice crystals. When sunlight strikes them, they shimmer and glow with a bright blue color.
Once seen only at high latitudes – relatively close to Earth’s poles – scientists have said the clouds have been edging southward in recent years. No one knows why.
We hope you enjoy these recent images! This first one is a video from Dominique Dierick, showing the shining clouds over Belgium on the night of June 12, 2019:
Christian Wig in northern Denmark caught the images to make the timelapse below on June 13 and 14:
… many people who have never previously heard of noctilucent clouds … found themselves eagerly taking pictures of them – from moving cars, through city lights, using cell phones and iPads.
On June 8 and 9, people were reporting more southerly than usual sightings of the electric-blue clouds.
Bottom line: Photos from the amazing month of June 2019, which has been awesome so far for seeing noctilucent – or night-shining – clouds. Special thanks to Adrien Louis Mauduit, who runs the Facebook community that tracks these clouds.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Prior to that, she had worked for the University of Texas McDonald Observatory since 1976, and created and produced their Star Date radio series. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. In 2020, she won the Education Prize from the American Astronomical Society, the largest organization of professional astronomers in North America. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
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