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AIM:Exploring Clouds at the Edge of Space


AIM 2017 Extended Mission Proposal



As of February 2017, the AIM orbit plane is nearly perpendicular to the Earth - sun vector. As a result the sun does not rise or set as viewed from the satellite, and SOFIE measurements are not possible. This will change by early October, 2017, when SOFIE will resume measurements. SOFIE science and housekeeping parameters all indicate a stable and healthy instrument. SOFIE V1.3 data are available online through February 2017. 

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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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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.


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.


NASA’s AIM Observes Early Noctilucent Ice Clouds Over Antarctica
Date: December 2, 2016

animation of AIM data illustrating noctilucent clouds over Antarctica
Data from NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere. This data was collected from Nov. 17-28, 2016.
Credits: NASA/HU/VT/CU-LASP/AIM/Joy Ng, producer

View Article

AIM Flight Operations Team Honored with NASA's Group Achievement Award

Date: November 9, 2016
View Details

ScienceCasts: Electric Blue Sunsets

Date: August 16, 2016

Climate Change at the Edge of Space
Date: June 29, 2016
View Article

Noctilucent Clouds Behaving Strangely
Date: March 1, 2015
View Article

“The strange behavior of noctilucent clouds over Antarctica in recent months has researchers on the trail of new teleconnections in Earth's atmosphere, which can alter weather and climate on a global scale.”

Unexpected Teleconnections in Noctilucent Clouds
Date: June 24, 2014
View Article and Animation

Source: 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.”

NASA's AIM Spacecraft Observes Noctilucent Clouds
Date: June 19, 2015
View Article

Electric-Blue Clouds Appear Over Antarctica

Date: Dec 23, 2013
Length: 3:28
View Article and Animation
Source: NASA

“Data from NASA's AIM spacecraft show that noctilucent clouds are like a great "geophysical light bulb." They turn on every year in late spring, reaching almost full intensity over a period of no more than 5 to 10 days. A vast bank of electric-blue clouds has appeared over Antarctica, signaling the start of the season for southern hemisphere noctilucent clouds.”

Noctilucent Clouds Get an Early Start
Date: Jun 07, 2013
Length: 4:15
View Article and Animation
Source: NASA

“Glowing electric-blue at the edge of space, noctilucent clouds have surprised researchers by appearing early this year. The unexpected apparition hints at a change in the "teleconnections" of Earth's atmosphere.”

Meteor Smoke Makes Strange Clouds
Date: Aug 07, 2012
Length: 4:16
View Article and Animation
Source: NASA

“Anyone who's ever seen a noctilucent cloud or “NLC” would agree: They look alien.  The electric-blue ripples and pale tendrils of NLCs reaching across the night sky resemble something from another world. Researchers say that's not far off.  A key ingredient for the mysterious clouds comes from outer space. "We've detected bits of 'meteor smoke' embedded in noctilucent clouds," reports James Russell of Hampton University, principal investigator of NASA's AIM mission to study the phenomenon.  "This discovery supports the theory that meteor dust is the nucleating agent around which NLCs form."

Strange Clouds at the Edge of Space
Date: August 25, 2008
View Article
Source: NASA

“When in space, keep an eye on the window. You never know what you might see.  Last month, astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) witnessed a beautiful display of noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds. The station was located about 340 km over western Mongolia on July 22nd when the crew snapped this picture”

FY 2007 Year in Review:   The Science Mission Directorate's Input to the President's Space and Aeronautics Report 2007
Date: December 2007
View Article
Source: NASA

“NASA SMD successfully launched four new space science missions designed to improve our understanding of solar processes, the Earth, and the history of the solar system.  Those missions are: …. Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM), launched on April 25.”

Strange Clouds
Date:  February 19, 2003
View Article
Source: NASA

“They hover on the edge of space. Thin, wispy clouds, glowing electric blue. Some scientists think they're seeded by space dust. Others suspect they're a telltale sign of global warming.They're called noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds (NLCs). And whatever causes them, they're lovely.  "Over the past few weeks we've been enjoying outstanding views of these clouds above the southern hemisphere," said space station astronaut Don Pettit during a NASA TV broadcast last month. "We routinely see them when we're flying over Australia and the tip of South America."

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Last Modified: October 30, 2017

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