A strange, previously unknown breed of cloud, dubbed "night-shining" or "noctilucent" because of its glowing appearance, was observed in late May for the first time in the polar regions by a new NASA satellite, the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere satellite. The clouds appear to be moving, but scientists so far know little about their origin and significance.
"It is clear that these clouds are changing, a sign that a part of our atmosphere is changing and we do not understand how, why or what it means," said atmospheric scientist James Russell III of Hampton University. "These observations suggest a connection with global change in the lower atmosphere and could represent an early warning that our Earth environment is being changed." What is known is that these "noctilucent" clouds typically form in an upper layer of the atmosphere known as the mesosphere, and that they appear both during the summer above the Northern Hemisphere's pole and the Southern Hemisphere's pole. The satellite will be used to record two cloud seasons over both poles.
Scientists hope that further observations will shed light on the shiny clouds' origin and their potential relation to global climate change, if any.
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