When the sun set over the UK on Dec. 9th, sky watchers were stunned by an unexpected apparition of super-colorful stratospheric clouds. "They were amazing to see
and a dream come true to photograph," reports Lesley Jennings of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. "There were all sorts of colors
. I've never see the like before!" added Rachael Taylor also from Aberdeenshire. Nigel Feilden photographed this specimen from Inverurie, Scotland:
© Nigel Feilden
Taken by Nigel Feilden on December 9, 2012 @ Near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
"These are nacreous clouds
," explains atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "Of all Earth's clouds they are most spectacular, and a very rare treat for skywatchers."
"For up to an hour after sunset or before dawn they glow like eerie electric discharges or gas jets in the darkening sky, their filmy shapes
slowly curling and uncurling with intense shifting colors. They are composed
of tiny ice crystals more than twice as high as ordinary clouds, 9-16 miles up, in the stratosphere and form at temperatures of minus 85 Celsius and below. The crystals are all of similar size and they diffract
the high altitude sunlight to make the colours."
"Search for nacreous clouds at high latitudes (e.g., Scotland, Scandinavia, Iceland, Northern US) in winter and preferably downwind of mountains," Cowley advises. "They like stormy weather that perhaps creates gravity waves
to loft the necessary moisture to make them upwards across the tropopause
into the stratosphere. Once seen they are never forgotten!"