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As a first step, NASA will launch the AIM satellite to orbit the Earth for at least two years. AIM is designed to discover how and why PMCs form and why they change. To accomplish this, the satellite will have three instruments that provide information about PMCs and their environment. One instrument, called CIPS, will take pictures of the clouds to determine when and where they form, and what they look like.

A graphic of the CIPS instrument.
Above: The CIPS
instrument: Cloud
Imaging and Particle
Size Experiment

A graphic of the SOFIE instrument.
Above: The
SOFIE instrument:
Solar Occultation for
Ice Experiment
Another instrument, called SOFIE, will measure the temperature of the mesosphere and how much water vapor is present, to determine what combination of these is necessary to freeze the water into ice crystals that form PMCs. This instrument will also measure the amounts of other gases to tell scientists more about the chemistry and movement of air in the mesosphere that might lead to cloud formation or evaporation.

The third instrument, called CDE, measures how much dust from meteors enters the Earth’s atmosphere. This is important because scientists wish to find out if a tiny speck of dust is necessary to provide a surface on which water vapor condenses and freezes; it is possible that without dust, PMCs are much less likely to form.

A graphic of the CDE instrument.
Above: The CDE
instrument: Cosmic
Dust Experiment

NLCs are intriguing clouds that inspire awe and wonder in those people lucky enough to observe them. Observations in the last decade suggest that it is more and more likely that even people in the continental United States and southern Europe will be able to see NLCs from their own backyards. The AIM mission will explore these clouds at the edge of space to solve their mysteries.

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NASA Facts
The AIM satellite is 55 inches tall, 43 inches wide and weighs 430 pounds.

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Science @ NASA
AIM Mission

NASA Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere

More on the Web

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado (2015) Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere—CIPS Instrument. (2015) Realtime NLC Gallery.

NASA Earth Observatory (2013, June 25) Early Start for Noctilucent Clouds.

NASA Earth Observatory (2011, January 27) Night-Shining Clouds Are Getting Brighter.'s Photo Galleries

Summer 2011 NLC Photos from around the Northern Hemisphere

NASA's Sun-Earth Education Forum Logo

The AIM mission is a part of
NASA's Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum.

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