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Correlations between GW PE and IWC revealed from SOFIE observations

A six-years (2007-2013) temperature dataset from the Solar Occultation for Ice Experiment (SOFIE) onboard the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite is used to extract gravity waves (GWs) in the polar stratosphere and mesosphere of both hemispheres [Liu et a., 2014]. The GW climatologies derived from SOFIE observations are consistent with previous ground and satellite observations in the polar region. Combining with the observations of the column ice water content (IWC, an indicator of the polar mesosphere cloud) by SOFIE, we find that the correlations between GW potential energy (PE) and IWC exhibit longitudinal and annual variations (see the figure).

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since AIM launched.

Launch Date: 25 April 2007
Location: Vandenberg AFB, California, USA
Launch Vehicle: Pegasus
Orbit: Sun-synchronus
Inclination: 97.8 degrees
Period: 96 min, 32 sec

After initial spacecraft stabilization, the spacecraft and instruments underwent extensive commissioning activities to ensure proper operation.


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Glowing silver-blue clouds that sometimes light up summer night skies at high latitudes, after sunset and before sunrise, are called noctilucent clouds. Also known as night shining clouds, they form in the highest reaches of the atmosphere – the mesosphere – as much as 50 miles (80 km) above the Earth’s surface. They’re seen during summer in polar regions. They’re typically seen between about 45° and 60° latitude, from May through August in the Northern Hemisphere or November through February in the Southern Hemisphere.

Click here for a video of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica in early 2014.

Noctilucent clouds are thought to be made of ice crystals that form on fine dust particles from meteors. They can only form when temperatures are incredibly low and when there’s water available to form ice crystals.

Why do these clouds – which require such cold temperatures – form in the summer?

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Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you've probably spotted a noctilucent cloud. Although noctilucent clouds appear most often at arctic latitudes, they have been sighted in recent years as far south as Colorado, Utah and Virginia. NLCs are seasonal, appearing most often in late spring and summer. In the northern hemisphere, the best time to look would be between mid-May and the end of August.


The Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite mission is exploring Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMCs), also called noctilucent clouds, to find out why they form and why they are changing.

The AIM mission was launced in 2007 and has been extended by NASA through the end of FY15. During this time the instruments monitor noctilucent clouds to better understand their variability and possible connection to climate change. Individual instrument data collection status, as well as spacecraft and instrument health, will be monitored throughout the life of the mission and reported periodically on this website.

The primary goal of the AIM mission is to help scientists understand whether the clouds' ephemeral nature, and their variation over time, is related to Earth's changing climate - and to investigate why they form in the first place. By measuring the thermal, chemical and other properties of the environment in which the mysterious clouds form, the AIM mission will provide researchers with a foundation for the study of long-term variations in the mesosphere and its relationship to global climate change. In addition to measuring environmental conditions, the AIM mission will collect data on cloud abundance, how the clouds are distributed, and the size of particles within them.


Unexpected Teleconnections in Noctilucent Clouds
Science @ NASA

Earth's poles are separated by four oceans, six continents and more than 12,000 nautical miles.

Turns out, that's not so far apart.

New data from NASA's AIM spacecraft have revealed "teleconnections" in Earth's atmosphere that stretch all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, linking weather and climate more closely than simple geography would suggest. read more

A Bullseye in the Sky Over Texas
This is a thin glowing layer of Earth's atmosphere rippling in the wake of a huge thunderstorm.

When we see patterns in the atmosphere from space, they tend to be in the clouds of powerful storms. These all have roughly the same form: they look like a spiral galaxy with arms spinning out from the core.

But meteorologists have detected other organizational principles at work. Like, take the fascinating image above. It shows .... well, I wasn't sure exactly what it showed. A meteorologist's blog post described them as "convectively-generated mesospheric airglow waves," but that did not quite explain how they worked or what they were.

So I got in touch with Steven Miller, senior research scientist and deputy director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University. Miller and his colleagues discovered these concentric rings while working with the newish satellite Suomi satellite's next-generation low-light sensor. (They published a paper on the discovery in PNAS.)

Miller told me I was looking at glowing ripples in the atmosphere itself!


Appearance of Night-Shining Clouds has Increased
Science Codex


First spotted in 1885, silvery blue clouds sometimes hover in the night sky near the poles, appearing to give off their own glowing light. Known as noctilucent clouds, this phenomenon began to be sighted at lower and lower latitudes -- between the 40th and 50th parallel -- during the 20th century, causing scientists to wonder if the region these clouds inhabit had indeed changed -- information that would tie in with understanding the weather and climate of all Earth.


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Last Modified: September 24, 2014

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