NASA has been studying the presence of a unique type of cloud called “night shining” or “noctilucent” clouds. Since their discovery 120 years ago, these formations have been moving toward the equator from the polar regions for some unknown reason. Researchers believe they are a result of global warming.

NASA’s “Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere” (AIM) satellite first picked up images of the noctilucent clouds on May 25. Sightings of them began in Northern Europe on June 6, suggestive of atmospheric change. These clouds are different from regular clouds. For one, they form 50 miles above the Earth’s surface in a higher level of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Normal clouds are often less than ten miles up. These clouds also need very cold temperatures to form. There is less water vapor in the atmosphere the higher it goes which is a key ingredient in cloud formation. In this case, these clouds are made of water vapor and crystals.

As a result of documenting these clouds, NASA will next launch the AIM mission to measure these clouds and why they form. The increases in water vapor in the atmosphere is a consequence of global warming, and the $110 million mission will help to show this. The mission will record two complete cloud seasons over both the north and south poles to document the entire life cycle of these clouds for the first time.

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