Photo credit - Bill Valentine

Photo credit – Bill Valentine

Cloud of the Day – Noctilucent

Photo credit - Jan Koeman

Photo credit – Jan Koeman

You thought nacreous clouds were high? Well, at as much as 80,000 feet they are, but compared to noctilucent clouds, nacreous are practically scraping the ground. Like nacreous, noctilucent clouds are best seen when the Sun is just below the horizon for the observer. They are so high that they are still illuminated by the Sun when it’s getting dark on the ground. That’s why they’re called noctilucent, or “night shining.” These clouds, also called polar mesospheric clouds, have been observed at well over eighty kilometers above the ground.

Photo credit - Ralph Croning

Photo credit – Ralph Croning

Noctilucent clouds are made of ice crystals. That requires water vapor and nucleation particles for the vapor to condense on. The water vapor is pumped up there by the strong convective energy found in the summer months. Even at that extreme height, some of the water can make it. Getting the particles that high is much more difficult. The best candidates are from the most powerful volcanoes, and dust actually sifting down from space.

The color of noctilucent clouds ranges from white to electric blue, glowing as if with their own light. There is no precipitation from noctilucent clouds.


12 comments for “Noctilucent

  1. November 18, 2013 at 14:55

    Wow. Just Wow.
    Stupendously beautiful and wonderful.

    • November 18, 2013 at 15:03

      Apparently the view from the space station is even better.


  2. November 19, 2013 at 15:51

    I guess it is not so far fetched that there be ice particles 80 KM up, considering that the moon has ice particles too.
    The colors are amazing or are they enhanced?

    • November 19, 2013 at 16:00

      No more than a good photographer getting it just right, I’d think.


  3. December 2, 2013 at 07:25

    The clouds are so beautiful. But it really does take a good photographer to capture. A bit more than point and click.

  4. May 29, 2015 at 07:36

    The third image is mine and no, one does not have to be a great photographer to capture noctilucent clouds. It does help to know your gear well. The rest is point and click. A tripod is required though.

    • May 29, 2015 at 10:12

      Thank you for joining the conversation, Ralph. I’m glad I got the attribution right on the photo.-) It might be point and click but you still need to be in the right place at the right time, and know how to take the shot.


      • Anonymous
        May 29, 2015 at 16:54

        Thanks RJB! I am about a year and a half late but only just came across this blog. It’s always nice to see one’s images where least expected.

        It’s true what you say, which is why I mentioned knowing your gear. It is getting close to that time of year when these clouds start to show themselves. I usually keep my eyes peeled, but don’t always have a camera handy 😉


        • May 29, 2015 at 18:51

          I’m glad you enjoyed finding your image here. Do you have more photos of clouds that you’d like to share? If I may be so bold.-) You might have noticed that I’m running a sporadic series on clouds and other sky things.


      • Anonymous
        June 4, 2015 at 23:05

        Sorry about that! I wanted to add links to both sites and did separate them with the word “and.” I had no idea they would show up and one big link 😉

        • June 5, 2015 at 10:05

          I know what you mean. Most things like that I just have to take a stab at and see how it turns out. Like, how is it that your name appeared on the first comment, but not on any of the rest of them? Don’t ask me. Luckily, in this case, it turned out that I could get to your site eventually.-)


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