Over the next few weeks, mid-latitude observers might experience the best noctilucent cloud viewing of their lifetimes.
By Roy W. Spencer, PhD | 11 June 2019
DR ROY SPENCER — Observers over the northern half of the United States are reporting something they have never seen before — electric-blue noctilucent (night-shining) clouds. They are wispy in appearance, and continuously change shape. They can be seen when the sun is about 6 to 16 deg. below the horizon, so about 1 to 2 hours after sunset or before sunrise. During that time of night the sun is still shining on these clouds, but not on any normal weather-related clouds.
In the late spring every year, people at far northern latitudes have often seen these on clear or partly-cloudy evenings. But solar-minimum conditions, with few if any sunspots, are causing cooling in the extreme upper atmosphere around 80 km (~50 miles) high where the lowest atmospheric temperatures are recorded, approaching -150 deg. F (-100 deg. C). That altitude is above 99.999% of the air in the atmosphere.
Adding to the spectacular electric blue displays is increasing atmospheric methane, which gets converted to water vapor at these altitudes, and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, which causes enhanced cooling of the upper atmosphere. The result is that the conditions necessary for NLC formation are extending farther south than ever before. […]