Rare electric blue clouds captured on film by Nasa

'You can literally see the gravity waves breaking – like ocean waves on the beach – and cascading to turbulence'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Monday 24 September 2018 00:31
Nasa releases stunning footage of electric blue clouds

A balloon launched by Nasa travelling across the Arctic has captured images of rare blue clouds formed by ice crystals interacting with shards of broken meteors.

Known as noctilucent clouds or polar mesospheric clouds (PMCs), a better understanding of these unusual phenomena will help scientists understand turbulence in the atmosphere – and could even play a role in weather forecasting.

The clouds are visible shortly after the sun sets in polar regions during the summer, as ice forms around meteor remnants in the upper atmosphere.

“Our cameras were likely able to capture some really interesting events and we hope will provide new insights into these complex dynamics,” said Dr Dave Fritts, who led the PMC Turbo mission.

The balloon used in the mission floated through the stratosphere for five days, and cameras on board captured six million high-resolution images.

So-called atmospheric gravity waves, caused by masses of air being pushed up when they meet obstacles like mountain ranges, also play a role in the clouds’ appearance.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to visualise the flow of energy from larger gravity waves to smaller flow instabilities and turbulence in the upper atmosphere,” said Dr Fritts.

“At these altitudes you can literally see the gravity waves breaking – like ocean waves on the beach – and cascading to turbulence.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in